The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced that it wants to buy 3,000 dogs from breeders to increase its force of canines who sniff out explosives, cash and drugs. With thousands of homeless dogs who would make excellent candidates for the program languishing in animal shelters across our country, the DHS should follow the lead of the Hearing Ear Dog Program and many police departments and fill its ranks with dogs adopted from shelters and breed rescue groups.
Instead, it plans to pay breeders to produce yet more dogs -- and not just 3,000. As only 20 percent of dogs who are selected for service programs successfully complete the training process, this plan will actually result in another 15,000 dogs who have no hearth rug to lie on and no one to take them to the park.
Breeding more dogs for this program is like dumping more oil into the Gulf -- it will make an existing catastrophe even worse. Our country is facing a massive dog overpopulation crisis, with some 2 to 4 million dogs euthanized each year simply because there aren't enough homes for them. President Obama realized this when he incurred the wrath of every dog lover in the U.S. for considering purchasing a dog. Instead, he adopted Bo.
Statistics show that the "success rate" of service dogs adopted from animal shelters and rescue agencies is the same as that of dogs who are specifically bred for certification jobs. And shelters everywhere have the type of dogs that DHS is seeking: breeds such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds and dogs who are outgoing, alert, active and extremely people-friendly. As anyone who has volunteered in an animal shelter or adopted a dog can attest, purposely bred dogs don't corner the market on intelligence, eagerness to please and extreme devotion to their guardians.
Adopting homeless dogs would also save taxpayers thousands of dollars, since adoption fees are far lower than what breeders charge for puppies. The average price that DHS paid for the 322 untrained dogs it purchased between April 2006 and June 2007 was $4,535 per dog -- a cost that the department's inspector general called "reasonable"!
Working for DHS could be a golden opportunity for many homeless dogs, as long as they are trained humanely using positive reinforcement, live at home with their handlers during off-duty hours and are retired with their human guardians. Working at interesting tasks side-by-side with someone they like and who likes them is a far richer and more fulfilling life for dogs than being locked in a crate all day while their guardian is at work, for example.
If DHS can help improve homeland security, save taxpayer money and create an enormous amount of public goodwill by adopting homeless dogs, why not choose that option?
Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1536 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036; www.PETA.org. Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.
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