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Owner: Military dogs 'should be considered soldiers,' not equipment

Posted May 21, 2013

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— At Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg, man's best friend can sometimes do what medicine cannot. Jasmine Russell, a military wife and owner of a therapy dog named Brit, says she see it all the time.

“For that little bit, they feel … a little happiness. It's not so bad, for just a little bit,” she said of the injured troops. “If you watch (Brit), he loves soldiers. The uniform is a magnet to him.”

Brit shares a bond with the soldiers he helps because he was once among them, serving as one of the highly trained military working dogs that sniffs out narcotics. He even received a medal for his service in combat. Russell adopted Brit after a leg injury forced the Army to retire him.

The U.S. Department of Defense classifies dogs like Brit as equipment, and Russell wants that to change.

Backers seek better treatment for retired military dogs Backers seek better treatment for retired military dogs

“Those dogs should be considered a soldier and not just a computer, a desk, a number, and this is all they are,” she said. “A lot of people, when they hear military working dogs, they automatically think fangs, teeth, mean, vicious, they can take somebody apart, and we want to show (them), this is not the case.”

Russell says the dogs deserve the right to a decent retirement and other benefits.

“If they should get injured, they have a right for a burial. That's the least we can do for them to get them off the equipment status and just acknowledge that they have blood flowing through their veins and they save tons of lives in their lifetimes,” she said. "That little bit is not going to mean a lot for the government, but it means a lot to the people who served with (them).”

Spc. Alphonzo Campbell, who is being treated at Womack Army Medical Center for a wound to his calf muscle, doesn’t have any family in North Carolina but has bonded with Brit, one of his few visitors.

“If this was my dog, I would classify him as my brother,” Campbell said.

Russell says that camaraderie should be acknowledged.

"They laid in the dirt with them. They shared whatever they had to eat. They covered their backs," Russell said. "(Brit and the other dogs) walked ahead of a whole bunch of troops. Detecting explosives without the dogs, a lot of the troops would've never come home."

Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican who represents the state’s 3rd Congressional district, proposed new legislation for the retired dogs last year. Part of it passed, and the dogs now get medical care and transportation provided for adoption. But military working dogs are still classified as equipment instead of the proposed "canine members of the armed forces" classification.

“We need to get these animals reclassified, instead of being equipment,” Jones said. “We're going to continue to push, and (Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel) has the authority, if he determines that we should reclassify.”

Jones says he does not plan to introduce another bill. Instead, he plans to meet with Hagel to push for more change. Jones says the change would not cost taxpayers.

“The cost is not that big a factor for this reason: legislation sets up nonprofits who can participate in the taking care of these animals after these animals leave the military,” he said. “These dogs are very special for those men and women who have been fighting for this country, who have seen these animals give their life for their comrades. They're very special.”

13 Comments

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  • germalthiser May 23, 2013

    they r still just dogs

  • Mom120 May 22, 2013

    I agree

  • delilahk2000 May 22, 2013

    THAT IS SO TRUE, THEY RISK THEIR LIVES,EQUIPMENT DOESN'T.....

  • baldchip May 22, 2013

    Let's get this done!! Write your Congressman!!

  • Union Cavalry May 22, 2013

    Do we consider our pet dogs as equipment? I don't think so.
    The military dogs have saved the lives of many servicemen in
    many wars. These dogs serve unconditionally and they deserve
    recognition for what they are. Huzzah for the dogs!!!!

  • pUnKiSh May 22, 2013

    Exactly maduda! If a criminal harms a LE dog, there are stiff penalties as if the criminal harmed a LEO! As should be. The military dogs should have the same classification as LE dogs! They both have very dangerous jobs which much of focuses on keeping hte humans safe.

  • lfields2 May 22, 2013

    I hope this passes, I have posted this on a regular basis on my FB page, I would do anything to help this pass. These dogs have feelings and they have a strong bond with their handler and his commrades, you can't do that with a desk!

  • xylem01 May 22, 2013

    Deserve "the right to benefits and retirement"?

  • maduda May 22, 2013

    Anyone in Law Enforcement can tell you how useful a K9 partner can be. They can also tell you how strong the bond is between the K9 and their handler. That dog is a member of the officer's family, as they are tasked with daily care of the dog, just like a "normal" pet.

    The LE community considers LE K9s to be an officer regardless of the fact that it is a dog. They are given the same rights and treatment as human LE officers when injured or killed. Their training and abilities are also questioned in court cases just as a human officer would be.

    The military needs to recognize the fact that even though K9s are a tool, they are not "equipment" any more than a human soldier would be considered "equipment".

  • jeffdewitt May 21, 2013

    I agree 100%, dogs are not equipment, they are living, feeling beings who care about their people.

    Military dogs should be treated with the respect they deserve.

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