The U.K. Ministry of Defense has recently admitted that between 2002 and 2011, it has euthanized 807 dogs used by soldiers fighting overseas. The MoD says that while efforts are made to find homes for most of its working dogs, the canines used in combat have been harder house. This led to an incredible 125 dogs being put down in 2009 alone.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, dogs are used by U.K., U.S. and other forces to sniff out explosives and drugs, as well as to guard bases and other more violent activities. In the U.K., sniffer dogs generally find homes with their handlers, though guard dogs are often thought to be too dangerous and end up being put down. In addition to behavioral concerns, many dogs thought to be too old for adoption end up being put down.
According to the Daily Mail, the rate of euthanasia among U.K. war dogs varies greatly. In 2002, only 20 dogs were put down, jumping to 89 in 2003. 2006 saw 95 dogs killed, and the number peaked in 2009 at 125 dogs. In the ten years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, the MoD has put down 807 dogs.
Some have displayed outrage that so many dogs that have served beside soldiers would be euthanized in such numbers. The Daily Mail quotes Kerry McCarthy, a member of parliament, as saying, “This is shocking. It seems a great shame that animals are destroyed in this way. We need to make sure that every effort is made to find them new homes.”
At the heart of this issue is that these animals appear to be treated the same as any other piece of military equipment when they reach the end of their practical usefulness. While it’s true that some of these war dogs would not be suited to the average pet owner, finding homes for the dogs that are still physically capable of being rehoused is not wholly insurmountable. Retired military dog adoptions have been legal in the U.S. since 2000, and none are apparently euthanized. Thestar.com quotes Gerry Proctor, from Lackland Air Force Base which handles military dog adoptions:
“All the animals find a home,” he said. “There’s a six-month waiting list right now for people wanting to adopt. [...]“
Of course, the U.S. adoption figure might be misleading as some dogs, like Rocky, may face euthanasia over medical concerns. According to the New York Times, 600 dogs were serving with U.S. forces as of 2011.
While the high number of euthanasias performed by the U.K. is chilling, it should be noted that it is nothing compared to the number of dogs that are killed in animal shelters each year. According to the American Humane Society, 3-4 million cats and dogs are euthanized in American animal shelters each year — about 50% of the animals that enter the shelter system.
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