Category Archives: Dog news

Covered K9s: Great new program offers free healthcare for retired military & contract dogs

Military Dog Lex
Retired military and contract dogs will be eligible for free veterinary care as long as their adoptive owners can transport them to NJ. Organizers of this program hope to eventually secure veterinary hospitals around the country to treat these retired heroes. Photo of Purple Heart recipient Lex via

Military dogs don’t exactly lead lives of comfort. When not deployed, they generally sleep on the floor of concrete kennels. They work hard, giving it their all while training and working in all kinds of conditions around the globe. Sometimes they get hurt. Mostly, life just takes a toll, no matter how much they love their handlers or their work.

The people who adopt these heroes when they retire often end up with astronomical veterinary bills as the dogs grow older. For years, the U.S. War Dogs Association (USWDA) has been trying to get these K-9 veterans the medical coverage they deserve — kind of a Veterans Administration for the four-legged set. But regulations prohibit federal funding of such a program, so the organization’s founder, Ron Aiello, has been looking for alternative ways to take care of these retirees.

Lucca, the hero of my new book, Top Dog, was still in the military when she needed emergency medical care for her leg, which was blown up by an IED in Afghanistan. Expensive diagnostics like scans will now be free for retired MWDs and CWDs whose owners can get them to NJ. The program should spread through the nation by early 2015.
Lucca, the hero of my new book, Top Dog, was still in the military when she needed emergency medical care for her leg, which was blown up by an IED in Afghanistan. Expensive diagnostics like scans will now be free for retired MWDs and CWDs whose owners can get them to a new program in NJ.

This Veterans Day we have great news: USWDA has teamed up with the American Humane Association and Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals to launch the first of what they hope will be many free specialty medical programs for retired military dogs and contract dogs. Red Bank will use its five hospitals across New Jersey to provide free specialty care, including diagnostics, surgery, and pain management. (Applause!)

The only hitch is that for now, at least, owners of these hero dogs have to get their dogs to New Jersey. USWDA will try to arrange free lodging during diagnoses and treatment, but transportation isn’t (yet) covered. Still, it’s a strong start to this brand-new program, which Aiello hopes will evolve into a nationwide network of veterinary clinics by early 2015.

“Right now I feel so blessed that we are able to offer this service to our retired MWDs and CWDs,” Aiello told us. “For 11 years now we have been supporting our active military working dogs and their handlers through Operation Military Care K9, and now we are able to continue that support in their retirement years.”

Any adoptive MWD or CWD owners interested in participating in the program should go to the U.S. War Dogs Association site and fill in the necessary paperwork, including supplying adoption forms.

This is the best Veterans Day present for these dogs and the people who love them. Job very well done, everyone! Can’t wait to watch it expand throughout the United States!



Navy SEAL Book Reveals New Information About Hero Dog in Bin Laden Raid

Your challenge: Find the dog! (Illustration from No Easy Day)

For anyone wondering if the brand-new book No Easy Day reveals much about the military dog who accompanied the SEALs on the Bin Laden raid, the answer is this: Although Cairo gets very little ink in the book, we do learn more about what he did. My publisher, Dutton (Penguin), launched this highly controversial book today, and I was able to get a copy (one of 550,000 copies in the first print run!) and pore through it for the crux of the exciting tale, and any info on the dog.

According to the book, Cairo was part of the small team that patrolled outside the compound for fighters running out to engage the Americans or wearing suicide bombs to protect their leader. (They’re known as “squirters.”) Cairo would be used to track down these squirters. The book calls him a Combat Assault Dog, but that’s not a designation anyone I’ve talked to has ever heard of. Sounds like a Combat Tracker Dog with patrol skills. (The umbrella “job” of Multi-Purpose Canine, used only in SpecOps, contains subspecialties that are on an as-need mission basis.)

There have been so many reports claiming as fact that Cairo led the way into the Bin Laden compound. My book, Soldier Dogs, left it all open. I’m glad to finally have some insight into what the dog that helped launch my book really did that day. We still don’t even know if Cairo is his real name, since all names in this book were changed. Maybe the authors forgot about the dog…

The illustration here shows a tiny little dog in the lower right corner, next to two human figures. They’re the assault specialists, and he’s the hero dog who never had to put his teeth into his job that night. I wonder what he’s up to these days?

How One Marine Saved Dozens of Dogs and Troops

Marine Capt. Brandon Bowe (left) is known for being there for handlers and everyone he works with.

Doesn’t the name “Captain Brandon Bowe” sound like some kind of American superhero? In a way, he really is. A recent feat this Marine accomplished will have far-reaching effects that could end up saving the lives of dozens of dogs, handlers, and anyone involved in today’s military missions.

If you read my book Soldier Dogs, you’ll know of the vastly important advanced dog-team training offered at Yuma Proving Ground, in an arid southwest corner of Arizona. More than 200 dog teams go through the Inter-Service Advanced Skills K-9 (IASK) course every year before they deploy.

And across the board, they credit the course with helping them, their canines, and the people who follow them come back home alive. Ask any handler who’s been through it: “The best training out there.” “It’ll save your life, and maybe a lot of other lives.” “You shouldn’t deploy with a dog if you haven’t gone to Yuma.”

But this lifesaving 19-day course was in grave danger of being shut down because of the cutbacks that are clobbering every part of the military. It costs less than $1 million to run IASK annually. To compare it monetarily, that’s a total of two death benefits for families of handlers or others who might not make it back home alive. In other words, it’s nothing. And of course, you can’t really put a price on a life anyway.

Gunny Knight trains Patrick, one of his favorite dogs

I devote a section of Soldier Dogs to the Yuma course, and to Gunnery Sergeant Kristopher Knight, the extremely colorful Marine who runs it. Capt. Bowe, who oversees the school, reveres him, says he’s the best, smartest trainer there is. Everyone Gunny Knight has helped train seems to agree.

“You lose the course, you lose Knight, you lose lives,” one handler told me at the Military Working Dog Seminars at Lackland Air Force Base last month.

It was looking quite grim for the course when my book came out earlier this spring. But then came a small ray of hope. Capt. Bowe was asked to present the case for IASK. He would have to go to the Pentagon in June and speak to 30 decisionmakers who would vote in front of him and decide on the spot the fate of the course.

Gunny Knight and Capt. Bowe at last month's military working dog seminars at Lackland Air Force Base

Capt. Bowe may not be out there directly saving lives every day. He’s not a dog handler. These days he’s mostly stateside. But his actions, his presentation, his argument would be the difference between life and death for the course itself and everyone who would suffer if it were to lose funding

Hmm, not much pressure there.

Last week was show time. I followed him on Facebook, and via messages he sent from Washington, D.C.

I’m about to leave the hotel to give my brief on the dog school my unit runs at Yuma, Arizona. This school teaches handlers and dogs to find IEDs before they explode. But is about to be closed because of budget cuts. If I am successful, we will receive funding for 2 more years……..I hope I can pull this off!!!!!!

Me too, Brandon, and a lot of other people do, too. Later that day:

So there I was, giving the biggest brief of my life to a room of 30 people and high powered decision makers and the highest ranking officer gets up and walks out of the room 30 seconds into my brief. Talk about throwing me off my game……I had no idea what to do… I say to the room, “Umm, not sure what to do here…….does this mean I failed.” The entire room breaks out in laughter……the senior officer comes back in 2 minutes later, I re-gain traction and push on……at the end of the brief he awarded us our funding request and says, “I’m gonna leave again, don’t get scared, you got my vote.”……….My question is, how the hell did he know what I said when he left the first time? I guess when you are that high of a rank, you are not only the smartest person in the room……but the smartest person out of the room as well!!!!!!

OK, just a little nerve-wracking! But hugely great news! The course would be funded. It’s going to stay alive at least through fiscal year 2014, and very likely, beyond. Later that day he sent out a message with the details.

The US Marine Corps is going to partner with the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) for 2 years in order to ensure

adequate funding for the IASK Course at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. JIEDDO has a mandate from Congress to support any valid/proven initiative that helps save the lives of service members from the effects of IEDs. The partnership between the USMC and JIEDDO is very strong and was enhanced when I attended the Joint Military Working Dog Conference in San Antonio, TX this year. Basically, JIEDDO knows of the capabilities of well- trained Military Working Dogs and also heard that the premier training course the USMC has at Yuma was in jeopardy of being closed due to lack of funding. In the words of JIEDDO, “We’re from JIEDDO and we’re here to help.”

It gets better. With the support of JIEDDO, this allows for the USMC Training Command in Quantico, VA flexibility to plan a budget two years away. Once they get the word from Headquarters Marine Corps at the Pentagon that the IASK Course needs to be an enduring requirement, they are going to ensure that the IASK Course makes the official FY15 budget. At present, it is the #1 initiative for FY15.

Dogs and handlers will continue going through the lifesaving IASK course, thanks to Capt. Bowe and some forward-thinking decision makers. (Photo by Gunny Knight)

I am so proud of Capt. Bowe for what he accomplished, and of Gunny Knight for making the course what it is. I’m also thrilled that the 30 people at that meeting saw the wisdom in keeping this course alive. Mostly, I am relieved. Relieved that families will be seeing their loved ones come home alive because of this course. Too many lives have been lost in this war already. To take away one proven life-saving entity that barely cost anything would have been unfathomable, short-sighted, and just really stupid.

I’d heard that some high-up Pentagon people and other military decisionmakers had read Soldier Dogs, and I’d hoped that maybe some of them were in the room with Capt. Bowe that day. Just a couple of days ago, Capt. Bowe wrote me this:

I know that a few people at JIEDDO have read your book because I saw it on their desks/bookshelves when I was there! I smiled to myself and wondered if they understood that the funds I was lobbying for were for the course in that book or they already knew because they read the book….haha!

Yes haha is right! If Soldier Dogs had even a small part in helping this go through, I am thrilled. Actually, I’m thrilled no matter what. It’s exactly the kind of awareness I was hoping would get out there, no matter how it got out there.

I love the final post Capt. Bowe wrote on his Facebook page once he got home.

Round trip air fare to DC: $449
DC hotel for 4 days: $965
Being awarded millions of dollars to keep training dogs to save lives of our fellow service members: millions of dollars and an amazing sense of honor and duty.
Coming home to a beautiful german shepherd that showers you with love and kisses: priceless!

(You can read much more about the IASK course in my book Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes)


Military Dogs Will No Longer Be Considered “Equipment” if Bill Passes

Does MWD Robby look like equipment to you? Military working dogs are still considered equipment by the military, but that could change if some freshly introduced legislation passes. (Photo snapped during a much-needed break in the action in Iraq. Courtesy of Robby's then-handler, and now "dog dad," former Air Force Staff Sergeant James Bailey)

Legislation introduced this week would finally take U.S. military working dogs (MWDs) out of the category of “equipment” and make them bonafide “Canine Members of the Armed Forces.” If it passes, these loyal four-legged heroes who risk their lives for the safety of our troops would at last be officially recognized as the intrepid warriors and lifesavers they have been for war after war.

“It is time that we as a nation recognize the importance and contributions of Military Working Dogs, and this can be done by elevating their status to Canine Members of the Armed Force,” said Representative Walter B. Jones (R-NC), who introduced the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “These dogs are a crucial asset to the US Armed Forces and have saved countless American lives during the past decade of conflict.”

When soldier dogs and handlers deploy, they spend almost every hour together. In fact, they barely leave each other’s side when they’re at war. Handlers can end up developing a closer bond than they have with other people, even spouses. When they have to part from each other in order to fulfill a unit requirement, it can be enough to bring a handler to tears.

I’ve never seen anyone cry when he talks about turning in his old rifle or giving back his body armor. The fact that dogs are still considered equipment is terribly behind the times. Sure, they’re not human soldiers, but they’re a far cry from a rifle or a helmet or a helicopter. Ask any child who watches Sesame Street which of these things does not belong, and they the kid will point right to the dog. Most military dog program instructors and trainers will, too.

Does it look like Marine handler Sgt. AJ Neito considers his dog Lucy as equipment? Here they wake up close together after a rest from 20 hours of firefight with the Taliban. (Photo courtesy of EOD tech, Sgt. Rosendo Mesa, right)

“I try to articulate dog is not a piece of equipment, but a working, breathing animal that needs to be treated respectfully and kindly,” says Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Antonio (Arod) Rodriguez, who’s in charge of advising more than 100 dog teams. “Your dog is your partner, and values meaningful interaction. You just don’t think about equipment in the same way.”

According to Blumenthal’s office, the legislation would assist military working dogs in three main ways. (The italicized text is from a press release from the senator’s office. The non-italicized text that follows each benefit is my own commentary, based on my knowledge of the topic because of the research for my book, Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes, which comes out March 15.)

Improved Adoption Process. To standardize practices regarding the transfer of retired MWDs, those without suitable adoption options at the time of their retirement could be transferred to the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. These dogs could travel to the base by commercial air by using donated travel benefits also used to facilitate the travel of our service members.

As it stands now, military dogs who are retired overseas in nondeployment areas (such as Germany) remain at kennels there until they’re adopted. If someone in the US wants to adopt a dog, the adopter has to pay the cost of the flight – not cheap. This legislation would apparently not cost taxpayers anything, and would bring these dogs back to Lackland, where most military dog adoptions already take place. It would also provide for the transportation to Lackland of any retired dogs who may be languishing at other military facilities in the U.S. This would probably initially cause some headaches there, but I’m confident the people there could make it work well.

Veterinary Care for Retired Dogs. The bill directs the Secretary of Defense to award a contract to a private nonprofit entity that would establish a system of veterinary care for retired MWDs. No federal funds would be used to provide this veterinary care.

Currently when people adopt military dogs, they adopt all the veterinary bills the dog will incur. But many of these dogs have a lot of mileage on them, and expenses can be prohibitive. This part of the bill seems like it will create a sort of K9 Veteran’s Administration, only without the government running it or funding it.

Air Force Staff Sergeant Brent Olson received a Purple Heart and an Army commendation medal for what happened the day he and his dog Blek were involved in an explosion in Afghanistan. Blek received nothing. At a ceremony where Olson was awarded another medal, he wanted Blek to receive his due recognition. He leaned over and pinned his own Purple Heart to Blek’s harness. This legislation would make medals/ribbons/recognition for dogs officially sanctioned. (Photo courtesy of Brent Olson)

Recognition for Service. The legislation would empower the Department of Defense to honor courageous or meritorious dogs, or those killed in action, through appropriate recognition such as a letter of commendation.

Dogs in the military are not officially awarded ribbons or medals or letters from the Department of Defense. America’s canine heroes can save all the lives in their squad and get injured in the process, but they will not receive true official recognition.

When you hear about dogs receiving awards and decorations, it’s usually because someone higher up at a command knows how valuable these dogs are, and wants to award their valor, their heroism, their steadfast dedication to their mission. And the dogs get the awards, but the awards don’t have the blessing of the Department of Defense.

One former Army handler I spoke with says he has seen dogs get all kinds of honors, including Meritorious Service Medals and Army Commendation Medals. Some dogs have also received Purple Hearts and Silver Stars. The ceremonies look official. But these are simply “feel-good honors” says Ron Aiello, president of the national nonprofit organization, the U.S. War Dogs Association. His group has been trying to get these benefits for dogs for more than a decade.

Of course, you could ask: What good are medals and ribbons for dogs? Do they even care? And the answer would be that no, they probably don’t grasp the significance. What’s another thing around their neck, or a framed certificate on a wall? A dog would probably just rather get a treat or a Kong, or better yet, a belly rub.

The honors we bestow on canine heroes are really more for those who love them and live by them, those who have been saved by them. And who can say? Maybe the benefits of this go down the leash to the dog, and the dog and handler will perform even better together.

I realize we shouldn’t get our hopes up just yet about this legislation, since it was only introduced, not passed. There may be many roadblocks enroute to its passage. But I think something will come of this. If not passage of the whole package, then parts of it, and this can be built upon and improved. I hope that the legislation will also take into account contract working dogs (CWDs), who are also phenomenal canine heroes protecting lives in these war zones, but I think this will have to be another piece of legislation

If you want to help the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act pass, let your senator or representative know you support it. Here’s a list of contact information for U.S. senators, which you can sort by state. And here’s a page that provides contact info for your congressperson in the U.S. House of Representatives. Update: Here are the legislative IDs for the legislation. They’re handy to mention these in your correspondence. House: H.R.4103. Senate: S.2134.

What do you think? Is it about time for

this kind of legislation? Or should dogs still be officially considered equipment that, albeit very beautiful equipment? I’ve heard that some people are not happy about this legislation, and I will probably find out the reasons soon, but I’m also interested in hearing from you if you’re against it. Are you going to take action either way? Leave a comment and let us know!

Article reprinted from an article I wrote for

NC Cop Who Was Caught On Video Kicking “Hanged” Dog May Get Job Back

An image from the video of Jones teaching Ricoh a lesson

(I wrote this yesterday for my blog on and realized it belongs here as well.)

Remember back in 2007 when footage came out showing a North Carolina cop yanking and kicking the crap out of his Belgian Malinois patrol and narcotics detector dog? It was very disturbing to watch, although I’m sure much more disturbing to be the dog, Ricoh.

State Highway Patrol trooper Charles L. Jones was fired after public outcry. But a three-judge panel has just ruled that Jones should get his job back. Oh, and he should receive more than $200,000 in back pay. I’m embedding it at the bottom of this post, but don’t look if you are sensitive. 

In case you don’t know the details of what Jones did, here’s a recap, via the Los Angeles Times. “The video shows Jones wrapping Ricoh’s leash over a railing, then yanking and raising the dog by its neck so that only its back feet touched the ground. Jones then kicked Ricoh five times, causing the dog’s legs to swing out from under it. Jones was disciplining the dog after it refused to release a piece of fire hose given as a reward for alerting officers to the presence of narcotics.” 

Okay, I need to take a deep breath and count to 10. I’ve spent a good part of the last year devoted to the research and writing of my upcoming book (it’s being published in about a month!) on military working dogs, and have spoken with dozens of military dog handlers and trainers, and witnessed countless hours of intensive training. There is no way anyone I dealt with would condone this kind of treatment of a dog because he didn’t want to give up his “paycheck.” What Jones did to Ricoh — who had been his dog for six years before the incident — is nowhere on the scale of “okay” in the military. Here is what one highly respected military working dog trainer (whose name I’m not going to use because he’d rather not be known for armchair quarterbacking) told me of this “method.” 

“Someone taught him how to correct the dog like this because it is methodical and you can tell he’s use this method before.  Again, someone who clearly uses this method of compulsion release has taught this person a very OLD and unproductive method of correction.”

Sounds to me like the North Carolina K9 handlers could use some major upgrading of methods. It’s generally about carrots, not sticks, these days, and if this is standard fare for them, they need to make an investment in education. Actually, from what I hear, some smaller law-enforcement communities haven’t upgraded their training methodologies from decades ago. Hard to believe, but if the Jones incident is any indication, some major upgrading of techniques is called for.

As further evidence that this may have been protocol, Jones sued the state. Another state trooper backed him up, saying that dog handlers were trained to “use any means necessary to discipline” a dog to control him. Whoa, it’s not like this dog just ate a trooper’s face for lunch and got a swift punch or kick in the heat of the moment. The dog just didn’t want to give up his reward. There are plenty of other ways of dealing with this.

Incredibly, the panel of judges in the latest development were simply upholding earlier decisions by a state Superior Court judge, an administrative law judge, and a N.C. personnel commission. (It was the state’s then-governor Mike Easley who fired Jones in 2007.) The state Supreme Court may be asked to review the latest decision. But it looks like there’s a good chance Jones will really clean up. He has been working as a police officer in Apex, N.C., so he has been getting a paycheck. The extra $200,000 and getting his old job back could make him feel pretty invincible.

If I were a law-enforcement dog for the N.C. Highway Patrol, I’d start sending out my résumé right about now.