They’re the unsung heroes of war—military working dogs (MWDs) who serve alongside our troops, sniffing out explosives and standing watch to protect their handler and their units.
MWDs will often serve multiple tours of duty, usually with different handlers. But what happens when the dogs are retired from the military? Popular opinion is the dogs should stay with their handlers, but that doesn’t always happen.
Sadly, MWDs were largely put down when they were through with their military service prior to the November 2000 enactment of Robby’s Law. Robby’s Law mandated all suitable MWDs be made available for adoption by “law-enforcement agencies, former handlers of these dogs, and other persons capable of caring for these dogs.” The order has since been amended with priority now going first to former handlers, followed by other persons capable of humanely caring for the animal, and law enforcement agencies.
Adoption priority hasn’t always been carried out in that order. The New York Post investigated several soldiers’ stories of being dodged or redirected when trying to adopt their MWDs upon the dog’s retirement.
MWDs trained by K2 Solutions were adopted out at events when their government contract ended in February 2014. The dogs were adopted primarily by law enforcement personnel and civilians—but not by their handlers. This stems not from a lack of handlers wanting to adopt their MWDs but seemingly from a defiance of policy dictated by Robby’s Law.
Betsy Hampton found out adoptions were bypassing handlers through a Facebook campaign aimed at helping reunite handler Alexander Reimer with his dog, Howard. Hampton was inspired to help other handlers and launched the Justice for TEDD Handlers group.
“While researching the Howard campaign, we found an additional five dogs were adopted by an officer from the Taylortown Police Department who had also adopted Howard,” Hampton says.
Taylortown, North Carolina is a town of less than 1,000 residents with a mainly part-time police department comprised of three reserve officers and a chief.
“I don’t know why a town of 1,000 people needs six bomb dogs—I live in Columbus, Ohio and [that police department] doesn’t even have six bomb dogs,” Army Spc. Devin Cooper, a former TEDD handler, says. “The police department in Taylortown did not handle this professionally or appropriately—the only reason they got the dogs was because they were in uniform.”
Adoption paperwork explicitly prohibits dogs from being sold or re-homed, but Hampton says the Taylortown officer did just that.
“Within a week, those five [remaining] dogs were distributed to deputies and others in the town,” Hampton says. “We kept digging and found there was more to it than the Taylortown dogs—a group of 13 dogs were adopted by a contractor who said they would be trained to help handicapped people, but the contractor tried to sell the dogs to the government of Panama. He wasn’t successful and abandoned 12 of the 13 dogs in a kennel in Virginia.”
K2 Solutions released the following statement following the Post article:
“We at K2 Solutions hope that the following information will clarify K2’s involvement in the US Army’s Tactical Explosive Device Detector Dog (TEDD) program. Please understand that due to contractual restrictions, we are not at liberty to discuss the details of the program or the people who administered it. We would, however, welcome an official governmental investigation of how the adoption of the TEDD dogs was conducted.…In February of 2014, the Army discontinued the TEDD program. As the dogs came back from deployment, they were kenneled and cared for at K2 while the Office of the Provost Marshall General (OPMG) and DPMS set up and administered the adoption process. An OPMG representative was present at K2 during all of that time to provide governmental oversight of the disposition of the dogs. K2 played no role and had no say in the adoption process of any of the dogs. K2 simply turned the dogs over to the government-approved recipients.”
Hampton agrees, saying the Post article unfairly placed the blame primarily on K2 even though they had no authority over the dogs or the adoption event.
“The OPMG and Army are responsible, as they set the deadline for ‘dumping’ the TEDD-program dogs,” Hampton says. “The Army owned the dogs and the OMPG officials were on-site signing adoption forms—and not following Robby’s Law.”
A few TEDD handlers have been reunited with their dogs, but many more are still looking and hoping.
“Some families found out the dog they adopted had a handler who wanted him/her,” Hampton says. “Some still refused to give up their dog to the handler, some took information [on the dog] and broke off contact—there have even been instances where the dogs are paraded around as trophies by people claiming to be patriotic, but those same people refuse to communicate with the handlers.”
The handlers lucky enough to even find where their dogs were placed have made pleas to be reunited with their partners, even offering monetary compensation and a new dog of the current owner’s choice. They are largely still rebuffed.
Spc. Cooper can’t even find his MWD Panter, who he was paired with in Afghanistan. Cooper says Panter got PTSD from the constant stress of deployment and didn’t make it through his next deployment because he was too skittish. Panter has been retired from service, but Cooper doesn’t know who adopted his dog. He says he hasn’t received much help from the Army, either.
“The Army hasn’t reached out to me very much,” Spc. Cooper says. “They told me if I find Panter, they will do a story—they don’t want to help unless I find him.”
Hampton thinks it goes beyond a reluctance to help.
“Handlers who contacted Lackland to get updates on their dogs or submit adoption paperwork were told [the Army] didn’t handle TEDD adoptions,” Hampton says. “The handlers called the OPMG contact for MWDs and got the runaround—some were told their dog had been adopted by another handler when they were adopted by a private family. There are so many situations where factual information was not relayed.”
Justice for TEDD Handlers are lobbying for an independent investigation into the 2014 adoption of TEDD dogs. The group has an active Facebook page, where they post constant updates. They are hopeful an investigation will eventually be launched and handlers can be reunited with their dogs.