For a long time, many people weren’t considering them much at all.
During Vietnam, the United States used about 4,900 MWDs to support its mission. While these brave and highly-trained dogs risked their lives alongside their handlers, they weren’t treated like valued assets. Instead, around 2,700 were turned over to the South Vietnamese army, and a staggering 1,600 were euthanized.
Even as recently as 2000, it was legal and common practice to euthanize MWDs at the end of their service. The mindset shift only came in the years after, largely because of one military war dog named Robby.
Robby’s Law was signed by President Clinton in November 2000 and required that all MWDs suitable for adoption be available for placement after their service. Sadly, Robby’s own former handler fought to adopt him, but to no avail.
Even after the law was signed, there were a couple of hurdles still at play, like the military handler being required to pay out-of-pocket to get the dog back, and the military having the final decision as to which handler gets the dog. (Typically, MWDs have between 4-5 handlers throughout their time in service).
Frankly speaking, it was a mess. That’s where Mission K9 Rescue enters the story.
Since 2013, Mission K9 Rescue has worked tirelessly to rescue, reunite, rehome, rehabilitate, and repair any working dog that has served in some capacity, led passionately by its president, Kristen Maurer.
In the last decade, Mission K9 Rescue has rescued over 1000 working dogs from every corner of the globe and repatriated them back to the United States. More than 540 have been reunited with their former military and civilian handlers.
As bad as things were for military working dogs, it was arguably worse for contract dogs. Private contractors often own these animals, and no current law guarantees them anything. Here’s just one example:
A few years ago, a company operating in Kuwait provided more than 140 explosive detection dogs at several oil plants. When the petroleum company canceled the contract, 140 highly-trained working dogs were suddenly out of a job. Instead of finding homes for the dogs, the private company euthanized between 24-40 of them. We’ll spare you the heartache of sharing the viral photo that followed, but trust us when we say it’s horrific.
That doesn’t mean it’s an easy life for military working dogs, either. As Bob Bryant from Mission K9 Rescue shared, “There’s a big disconnect between dogs coming home and dogs coming home healthy.”
Many have post-traumatic stress, just like some of their military handlers. These dogs live in kennels for most of their lives, and all they want - all they’re trained to want - is their “toy,” like bombs, drugs, or mines. Once they get it, it’s taken away again, and they’re placed back in their kennels. It creates a lot of anxiety.
But Mission K9 Rescue works to overcome that in a five-part mission:
Rescue - Any and all contract working dogs and military working dogs, as well as any other working dog that may need help. This includes bringing them back from overseas or rescuing them out of a poor environment stateside.
Reunite - Any retired working dog that has a handler that wants him and has proven that they are the right home. Handlers always get first preference, and Mission K9 Rescue works to ensure the dog is transported to the handler.
Re-home - Any retired working dog that does not have a designated handler, Mission K9 Rescue will work to find the perfect loving home for the dog.
Rehabilitate - Often, retired working dogs have been in situations that can cause them severe anxiety and stress. Many retire with issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These dogs need time to decompress and reintegrate into society.
Repair - Working dogs train like professional athletes their entire careers. When they retire, some have extensive medical issues that can become quite costly. Since they do not receive retirement benefits, Mission K9 Rescue provides all veterinary needs while in their care. (Just last year, they spent $300,000 on veterinary care alone.)
In addition to all of these initiatives, Mission K9 Rescue just does a really good job of loving these animals. When we asked how they can combat PTSD in dogs, Kristen smiled and said, “We baby them. We don’t treat them like working dogs, we treat them like pets and loved ones.”
“Early on, we were using dog runs for some of the rehabilitation work,” she told us. “But we realized that the dogs associated those with work, so we had to change their environment.”
They’re always working to ensure the dogs’ needs are met, and they’re really intentional throughout the process. Both Kristen and Bob from the Mission K9 Rescue team have adopted retired working dogs and recognize that their animals still need stimulation, just in different ways.
Both have retired drug dogs that still alert to narcotics out in public. “Mine has found drugs at the park more than once,” Bob told us.
Mission K9 Rescue is also very well-connected. Their network is vast, and they use it to help as many dogs and handlers as possible. Remember what we said about Vietnam? Well, it could have been a very similar story in Afghanistan, too. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.
After American troops withdrew from Afghanistan, hundreds of dogs were left behind and held by the Taliban. Only recently have they begun releasing dogs, and Mission K9 Rescue is on the frontlines to get them. Some have already arrived in Washington, DC, and are waiting in a partner boarder facility until they can be picked up and transported to Mission K9 Rescue in Houston.
Still others are lined up and waiting in Afghanistan. And that’s where you and Chive Charities come into play.
Through the selfless donations of our Chive Nation community, we were able to provide a $10,000 grant to Mission K9 Rescue to aid in their mission to help more working dogs. With that support, the team traveled abroad to rescue three military and contract working dogs, flew them back to the United States, and reunited them with their former handlers. They gave them the hero's welcome they deserved.
Whatever these incredible dogs need, they’ll get from Mission K9 Rescue. More of their lives will be changed because of your support - that’s something to be proud of.
As for Chive Charities, well, we’ve long been an organization committed to looking out for the underdogs. This time, they just happen to be the four-legged version. Join our community and help serve more of the underserved, human or canine. DONATE HERE.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about adopting a military working dog or contract working dog, please visit missionk9.org. They boast a 98% success rate with adoptions, so you’ll be in good hands.