Congressman Walter Jones may be a dog's best friend. A military dog's, anyway.
Earlier this week, the 3rd District Republican introduced H.R.4103, entitled "Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act."
The bill, sent to the House Armed Services committee, would change the status of working dogs from "military equipment," their current classification, to "canine members" of the services they serve.
As of December 2011, about 650 dogs were serving with US combat forces. They perform a wide range of duties, from detecting IEDs to checkpoint and police work.
What's in a name?
A lot, as it turns out. As "equipment," it's much harder for dogs to be adopted when they're ready to be "decommissioned." If they're serving abroad, their adopters or military units have to foot the bill to transport them back to the US as surplused equipment.
As "canine service members," the retiring dogs would be able to use donated commercial air travel as other service members do.
The bill would also streamline the adoption process, and set up a sort of retirement home at Lackland AFB in San Antonio for dogs without an adoptive home.
It also calls for the establishment of a private nonprofit organization to provide veterinary care for retired military dogs. Many have suffered minor or serious combat-related injuries, and some veterinarians believe they may even be vulnerable to a canine form of PTSD. No federal funds are to be used.
And last but not least, the proposal calls for the creation of a decoration or other recognition for dogs who are killed in action or whose bravery deserves commendation.
“It is time that we as a nation recognize the importance and contributions of Military Working Dogs, and this can be done by elevating their status to Canine Members of the Armed Forces," Jones said in a press release. "These dogs are a crucial asset to the US Armed Forces and have saved countless American lives during the past decade of conflict."
Jones introduced the bill in conjunction with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who authored the Senate version, S2134.
It's not the first time Jones has helped military working dogs. In 2007, he was instrumental in convincing the DOD to offer its first early canine retirement to a dog named Lex. The dog was adopted by the family of his handler, Cpl. Dustin Lee, after Lee was killed by an explosion in Iraq. Lex was badly wounded inthe blast, but is still living with the Lee family in Mississippi.