Death of A Warrior
At the end of the American cavalry era, the Army disposed
of its horses by machine gunning them to death. In our war (Vietnam), the
dogs were treated the same way. Only it was done in a more “humane”
manner. Over 4,000 dogs served, some were reassigned to other bases and a
few were shipped back to the US. However, most were killed in a production line fashion. As the war ended, a few dogs were reassigned to other bases in the Pacific
area. The majority were declared excess.
In most cases the dog’s own handler
had to take the dog in for this last trip to the vet. This is very hard for a
dog handler and is absolutely the worst part of the job. In the 90's a documentary
about military dogs was shown on the Discovery
Channel. News stories with interviews of former handlers exposed to the
public the fate of Vietnam service dogs. Due to the public outcry, the US Military
pledged never to dispose of
military working dogs in such a manner again.
But military dogs were still rewarded with a cruel death
once they slowed down with age. The public interest prompted
congress to write a law changing their retirement prospects from a drug induced
death to a honorable retirement. In November, 2000, President Clinton signed a bill to amend title 10, United
States Code, to facilitate the adoption of retired military working dogs by law
enforcement agencies, former handlers of these dogs, and other persons capable
of caring for these dogs.
Now the dogs will have a chance to live out their
lives if qualified people will adopt them. The key phrase is "qualified
people". This is a good chance for ex dog
handlers to help. The dogs must go to responsible owners willing to accept the
liability that will accompany the dog. The new owner will also be responsible
for the medical care of the dog.
We know many handlers that have been
able to adopt their former military dogs. We envy them for we were unable
Adopt a retired Military Working Dog
For Information, Adoption List, Download Adoption
The following story accurately
depicts the previous fate of older dogs.
As much as we loved the dogs and
the military depended upon them, we all let them down in the end. The dogs
paid the ultimate price with their lives, despite their loyalties and the
protection they provided. Other SEA veterans returned to society or
furthered their careers. The dogs were treated as unusable, excess
military items. As Vietnam bases closed, dogs were either turned over to
the Vietnamese military, shipped to other PACAF bases, or were euthanized.
As Thailand bases were later closed, a few dogs were shipped to other
bases or the PACAF Dog School. SSgt John Grammer, a former handler TDY to
the Korat AB closing, reported that up to 6 dogs a day were euthanized.
Every time a military dog was euthanized (or
“put to sleep,” as was the common vernacular), it was a somber
experience. The dog was taken out of his kennel for his last walk. The
assigned handler usually came in early to give him one last good
romp—one last, long do-anything-you-want-Big-Dog stroll. It was normal
for his handler to want him to have a last few happy moments since he was
kenneled most of his life. They lingered on that walk back, though. The
dog was groomed one last time to look his best; then fed a good treat by
his stoic but caring handler/partner. And, he was finally permitted one
last good WOOF on the military brass as he was casually walked by one
of their assigned vehicles. He “saluted” his own tribute to his
undignified end before he entered the vet clinic the last time.
Long ago, the dog learned that different
locations where he was muzzled meant either a brief inconvenience to be
transported on a posting truck or another visit that developed into the
associative fear engrained by painful experiences at the vet clinic.
(Years later, the former would be known as “equipment association” and
the latter as “avoidance behavior”). He growled and carried on; he
even bared his teeth as he was muzzled. He had become keenly alert as he
entered the examine room and was lifted onto the table. He anticipated a
new pain, another violation of his flesh and his proud, fierce demeanor.
He fought; he struggled valiantly.
The vet came around to the business at hand with
the infamous “green needle” which got its name due to the lethal
drug’s color. The dog was forced to lie down on the table, all the while
he struggled against his partner. The dog thought of another tactic—gave
his handler that poor-little-puppy-dog look meant to free him—an
invitation, a promise that he would behave if taken out of that place.
NOW! The vet tech and vet worked in tandem to find a good vein one last
He fought; he growled. Then, the needle was
inserted, the syringe’s plunger was gradually depressed until all the
deadly, cool green liquid was gone. Then slowly, slowly the dog became
groggy, fighting the last long sleep as the deadly drug crept through his
system. Although he fought less, his partner cradled him and held him
closer, as one would a sleepy child. He stirred less and less, as though
he was a seemingly recalcitrant toddler who yawned and muttered he
didn’t want to go “night-night” just at the last precious moment,
not just yet. WAIT! The last mid-breath protest fell silent as all motion
ceased. His breathing became shallower still and finally, one last exhale.
All done, all gone, all...DEAD. The vet checked his vital signs and
annotated a death pronouncement as the final entry on his records. Then
came the final insult—the necropsy. All military working dogs were
autopsied upon death in accordance with regulations.
Kennel attendants and/or handlers bore this
warrior to his final, pre-dug resting place in the K-9 cemetery. A marker
with his name and brand number witnessed this last indignity. Aligned with
the other stark ones, row upon row, it bore silent testament to the
military solution of disposal, his life.
Years ago before his time, it had been said that
the coward died many deaths; however, the valiant died but once. Thus,
that axiom became his legacy to haunt our thoughts all these years later.