If the movie “Megan Leavey” made you consider giving a forever home to a four-legged hero, the good news is that there are programs to make that happen. But when it comes to military working dogs, the adoption process is a different animal from popping by the pound and picking one out. In fact, that the information packet provided by the U.S. military’s adoption program includes a reality checklist to be completed as part of the application process.
A military working dog is a canine — popular breeds include Belgian Malinois, German shepherd and Labrador retriever — owned and trained by the Department of Defense to detect things such as explosives, narcotics or currency. A contract working dog performs many of the same jobs but is owned by a private company that supplies canines to the Defense Department on a contract basis. Military dogs are usually retired when they’re 10 to 12, while contract dogs retire a few years earlier.
The distinction is important, because adoptions of the former are arranged through a program at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, with the process beginning with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
According to Jerry Britt, dispositions coordinator for military working dogs at Lackland, qualified candidates can expect to wait 18 to 24 months. He says the program currently has 1,200 applications on file and 14 dogs up for adoption.
Bob Bryant, the Newbury Park-based co-founder of Mission K9 Rescue, which currently has 200 applications for adoption and a 20-dog kennel of waiting adoptees, says wait times can be much shorter when home conditions are ideal. “We’ve also adopted as fast as one week,” he added. (Both programs give a dog’s handler first priority.)
Retired working dogs are often high-energy, some have behavioral issues (“Most every dog that we get in has some sort of PTSD,” Bryant says), some need to be socialized or housebroken and still others have suffered injuries or require specialized diets.
One major consideration is whether or not children are in the mix. “We normally won’t adopt high-drive dogs to anybody with kids under 10,” Bryant said. (Age minimums are offered by way of example only; each program sets its own guidelines.)
In addition to veterinary care, toys, food, grooming and occasional boarding (estimated at $500 to $700 annually), a retired working dog could require something more — in terms of both time and money. “When they were working, they were scaling walls and leaping off shipping containers, so most of the military dogs that retire will have hip issues or back issues,” Bryant says. “(Adopters) need to be able to provide enough social interaction so that the dog can learn how to become a dog again.”
Providing veterinary care and an appropriate environment aren’t just suggestions; they’re part of the legally binding adoption contract. Other stipulations include not using the dog for work purposes — guard or drug-detection dogs, for example — and agreeing to have them spayed or neutered.