This Memorial Day, as we remember all the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedoms, let's not forget the sacrifices of the military working dogs who have served alongside them.
Much of the world cheered when 80 members of an American commando team captured and killed Osama bin Laden a little more than a year ago. One of these American heroes was Cairo, the dog who played an integral part in the capture of Bin Laden. Because so much of that mission remains top secret, we haven't been able to see a picture of Cairo, but we know that he was one of the team members responsible for closing off the perimeter of the home where Bin Laden was hiding.
Not all dogs have had the opportunity to help capture the world's most wanted fugitive as Cairo did, but every military dog is saving lives through detecting explosives, conducting searches and patrols and working on specialized missions. Beyond that, though, these dogs are also extremely loyal to their handlers and are willing to do anything to protect them. For example, CNN reported the heartbreaking story of Cpl. Dustin Lee who was badly injured in an insurgent attack while he was on patrol in Iraq. His canine partner, Lex, also suffered shrapnel injuries, but pushed himself through his pain to lie over his human partner in an attempt to protect him. Tragically, Cpl. Lee did not survive his injuries, but his dog Lex did. Lex was adopted by Cpl. Lee's family and was then recognized by Members of Congress for his exceptional service.
Military dogs have died, been maimed and suffered to save our military service members, but yet are currently defined as mere "equipment" under federal law. Ironically given dogs' status as equipment, Gen. David H. Petraeus, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told the New York Times that the dogs bring capabilities that "cannot be replicated by man or machine." Defining military dogs as equipment is shameful. It trivializes all that dogs do, but even more importantly it makes it more difficult to return retired dogs to the United States for adoption. Dogs are sometimes stuck in far away locales while those wanting to adopt them must pay large fees to transport them. Old equipment may be left behind, but retired military dogs never should be.
The Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), reclassifies military dogs as "canine members of the armed forces" instead of equipment. The bill also streamlines the adoption process for retired military dogs and directs the military to set up a program for retired dogs' veterinary care, at no cost to the taxpayer. It also directs the Secretary of Defense to create a decoration or other recognition for military dogs that are killed in action or perform an exceptionally meritorious or courageous act in service to their country.
This legislation recently passed the House as part of a larger military policy bill. However, we need your help to build Senate support for the bill. For the sake of our canine heroes, please contact your Senators via the ASPCA Advocacy Center [www.aspca.org/militarydogs] and ask them to cosponsor S. 2134, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act. Like their human counterparts, our military dogs deserve a happy retirement from service.
This post originally appeared on Sayres' blog, Ed's Corner.