Though military dogs fight alongside soldiers on the battlefield, these warriors are still qualified as "equipment" under federal law, making it difficult to give them the care they need when they retire.
The number of active-duty canines tasked with finding explosives and insurgents has increased from 1,800 in 2001 to 2,700 in 2011, according to the New York Times. But while these "troops" make the same sacrifices as their human counterparts, they are not officially considered members of the military -- a status discrepancy that advocacy groups say has to change with the passing of recently-introduced legislation.
"Defining military dogs as equipment is shameful," wrote ASPCA President Ed Sayres in a HuffPost Blog. "Old equipment may be left behind, but retired military dogs never should be."
Click through the slideshow to learn about inspiring military hero dogs. Story continues below.SLIDESHOW:
Though the government presented a number of obstacles, the family of fallen Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee did whatever it took to adopt Lex, the military dog who served with their son in Iraq, CNN reports. Before Lex passed away in March, he offered therapy to wounded soldiers and a way for Lee's mom to tell her son's story, a mission, she says, she will not give up.
After completing more than 100 missions with her beloved German shepard, Rex, former Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey, 28, was determined to adopt her military dog, the Daily Mail reports. The Rockport, NY., native campaigned for five years and finally got to take Rex home in March. "Rex is my partner," Leavey told MSNBC. "I love him."
The only member of the Navy SEAL team involved in the assassination of Osama bin Laden to be revealed, Cairo -- a military dog -- played a critical role in the mission by alerting the special forces teams to hidden threats, the NY Post reports.
Cpl. Kory Wiens was so attached to Cooper, the military dog he worked with, that he planned to stay in the Army until the Labrador retriever's career was over and adopt him afterwards, the AP reports. The two were killed by an improvised bomb in 2007 and were buried together in Wiens' Dallas, Ore., hometown.
While stationed in Fallujah in 2005, MWD Beyco conducted improvised explosive device searches, route clearance sweeps and searches of buildings and vehicles. MWD Beyco earned a Combat Action Ribbon and was nominated for the American Humane Association's Hero Dog Awards in October.
The Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act would work to streamline the adoption process and ensure that retired military dogs get appropriate medical care they need, a critical consideration now that military dogs are returning with the same injuries as their human counterparts.
More than 5 percent of the approximately 650 deployed military dogs are developing canine PTSD, according to the New York Times.
Yet, despite the fact that these warriors are partaking in high-profile missions, and are contracting crippling conditions, they aren’t guaranteed the medical care they need and are often denied adoption.
When former Marine Cpl. Megan Leavey survived a roadside bomb with her military dog, Sgt. Rex, -- in 2006, all she wanted was to return home with her beloved pooch, the Daily Mail reports. But after a year of recovering together, Leavey learned that the Marine Corps. had decided to euthanize the German shepherd because an injury would interfere with his bomb-sniffing abilities. She embarked upon a five-year, highly publicized campaign to get her dog home.
"As a safety precaution, they don't give all dogs away," Leavey told the news source. "The dilemma with me is the minute they say he can't be adopted, because he's sick and because he can't work, they'd have to put him to sleep."
The two were finally reunited in March.
Advocacy groups hope that by pushing the passing of the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act that dogs, like Rex, will be able to seamlessly return home with their handlers, or other owners who are eager to take them into their homes and get the lifelong veterinary care they need after risking their lives for their country.
The House of Representatives has moved forward with the provision, and now advocacy groups are calling on supporters to urge the Senate to get involved too.
"Like their human counterparts," Sayres writes, "our military dogs deserve a happy retirement from service."
Learn how you can make a difference in passing the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act here.