US Abandons Military Dogs Overseas

“Uncle Sam got them over there, and it’s a point of honor for Uncle Sam to get his soldiers, whether they are four-legged or two-legged, back to the US.”


Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Corps military working dog with a Marine special operations team, takes a break with his handler. (Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released)
Wilbur, a U.S. Marine Corps military working dog with a Marine special operations team, takes a break with his handler. (Photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau/Released)




Even though combat dogs save about 200 human lives during their service, rather than be given a hero’s welcome home, they are often left in overseas war zones once they are no longer “useful.”  This treatment is appalling, especially considering the number of soldiers who would love to adopt them.

In his column for USA Today, Jonah Goldberg exposed a little-known secret of the US military:  when combat dogs become too old, too traumatized (PTSD), or too injured, they are often reclassified as military “equipment” and left to perish in shelters.

“It is one thing to ask these warriors to say goodbye to their dog when it is still on active duty and is assigned a new handler, which often happens,” Goldberg said.  “It is quite another to ask them to leave these dogs behind when the dogs are effectively abandoned overseas, left to languish in shelters — or worse. That’s why handlers are sometimes forced to make incredible sacrifices to get their four-legged comrades home on their own.”

“It bothers me that these dogs, who have served our country with courage and with valor and with honor that these dogs are referred to as equipment,” said American Humane Association president Robin Ganzert. “We applaud the Air Force agreeing to make the change in their manuals to get them out of that equipment status.”

In the US, about 2,000 dogs are on active duty overseas at any given time, and upwards of 400 retire each year.  In the UK, many of their retirees are brought home only to be euthanized.

Army Sergeant David Heyhoe and his explosives search dog Treo are two of the lucky ones.  They were both due to retire around the same time, and the handler was able to bring his dog home, where they could adjust and heal together.  It is unfortunate that most dogs are just discarded.



Army Sergeant David Heyhoe and his explosives search dog Treo.
Army Sergeant David Heyhoe and his explosives search dog Treo.




Soldiers and dogs become deeply bonded, and would love to go home together.  We’ve all seen the joyful reunions between combat dog and handler – and the term “handler” just doesn’t do them justice – these are brothers (and sisters)!  Many vets are willing to pay thousands of dollars to bring their buddies back home where they belong.

Even though many cargo planes fly back to the US only half full, the government says it is often too expensive to bring the dogs home.  Considering HALF of the entire annual federal budget in the United States is spent on the military, more than a pittance should be spent on veteran care – and that includes dogs – they are vets, too!

“It would be more than feasible to place a retired military working dog on the transport plane back to the continental United States,” said Debbie Kandoll, founder of Military Working Dog Adoptions.  “Uncle Sam got them over there, and it’s a point of honor for Uncle Sam to get his soldiers, whether they are four-legged or two-legged, back to the US.”

There are numerous charities fundraising specifically for this cause – namely Mission K9 Rescue and the American Humane Association’s program Helping Bring All Heroes Home.  There are also rescue groups, such as Puppy Rescue Mission and No Dog Gets Left Behind, working to bring home stray and abused dogs that soldiers bond with while on duty.

“We are creating a fund for retirement care of military working dogs and contract working dogs to make sure that these dogs are afforded with medical care they need, so they can live a retirement in dignity,” Ganzert said.

“They give the best years of their lives, valiantly protecting our service members and our own freedom,” said Ruby Ridpath, a civilian who adopted Carlos, an explosives-detecting yellow Lab. “He’s worth every penny.”



Sgt. Deano Miller and Thor's happy reunion at the Sea-Tac Airport.
Sgt. Deano Miller and Thor’s happy reunion at the Sea-Tac Airport.




These dogs are clearly more than just equipment – they are companions, and many soldiers rely on them when they come home.

“Thunderstorms … I’d wake up at like two o’clock in the morning and I’d just be crying. I would be so stressed,” said Marine Sergeant Deano Miller.

But now he has Thor, his best friend while deployed.  They were separated in 2010, and Thor served five additional deployments with five different handlers.

“I stole his collar, kept it, still have it,” Miller said, laughing after choking back tears. “I just wanted my dog back. I didn’t care about anything else.”

They were reunited earlier this year, and now the two are inseparable.

If you would like to help, please click on any of the links above and contact your local politicians to make it a law for these soldiers to be brought home.

To sign a petition urging for all US military dogs to retire on US soil, click here.


571 thoughts on “US Abandons Military Dogs Overseas

  1. Ironic that when a Police Dog is killed in the line of duty, they’re given a hero’s funeral (In NZ, at least). Why not for war dogs?

  2. That’s absurd… Thankfully there’s people trying to change that. Discarding them like that is really shameful.

  3. There are quite a few organizations that are working to bring the working dogs home to be adopted, but I can’t think of the names right now. I have read many an article about them though.

  4. i thought they were ending the military dog program regardless? but yes I agree they should be shipped back home – lots of vets need dogs and it helps with PTSD. lots of great organizations out there like Dogs for Heroes

  5. Why don’t they just put them on a cargo plane or on the same plane that their handlers come home on. It is a disgrace that they are treated this way. It seems like most of their handlers would be happy to bring them home as pets.

    1. You’re right, Nancy. They are brought home on the same plane as their handlers. Check out and scroll through for many photos of dogs and handlers coming home together. I’m not sure where this story originated, but it’s definitely been twisted a bit to fit someone’s agenda. It’s not true.

      1. Some dogs get home–not all of them!!!Not even the majority of them,but there are organizations working to get more of them home!!!

  6. I thought I read that this NO LONGER happens…. from what I was told: Obama signed a bill designating military dogs as soldiers. They pay a lot for their training….

  7. We need to flood the inboxes of those who can stop this – Dept. of Army? Congress? Marines? Pres.? This is barbaric, and HAS to end.

  8. The Iraqis and Afghans often turn and sell all dog related items for money and leave the dogs to starve.

  9. Ok, im not even bothering to read this article. Because I know it’s bullshit. I had 4 dogs with my company when I deployed (I was not a handler.) and I can still tell you where 3 of them are today, 4 years later. . Whatever is being reported, I can almost guarantee, is an isolated(but still terrible) event.

  10. These dogs need to be brought home with their soldiers!! It is the RIGHT thing to do!! Nothing more comforting than a dog! They did their job and should not be discarded!

  11. I believe the laws just changed on this. If you go to the ASPCA “Operation Bagdad Pups”, they do a lot to help soldiers bring these dogs home.

    1. It takes forever to implement any changes to the law-it’s our govt. we are talking about—-more dogs are left behind than are brought home!!! That is why so many organizations are working to get them home!

  12. For all of you calling BS and saying it’s not true….IT IS TRUE!!
    They get over there, they work, they save lives and then they get left behind.
    I’ve read about it way more than a few times!!
    Some soldiers do EVENTUALLY get their dogs but it takes a LOT of time, paperwork, approvals and MONEY!!!!!!
    Thousands of dollars to get the dogs home when and IF they get the go ahead.
    It’s ridiculous!! How hard it it to fly them home?

    1. It is utter BS, and how would I know I was a MWD handler for 15 years. You train as a team and deploy as a team, this has not happened since vietnam. Even as a security contractor working at the US embassy in Baghdad as a handler and trainer were the dogs brought home, I brought 2 back to Chicago when I came home for R&R.
      I do see how easy it is to rile up a bunch of people that know nothing about the program itself though.

      1. Thank you, Christopher. I’m not sure whose agenda is being fueled or whose ego needs to be stroked, but it is utter BS.

  13. I think they should automatically come home with their partners.and stop going thru all this red tape.they have bonded with them.let them come back with them and have a good loving home.these dogs have feelings they are not equipment.bring bring them home with trying with trainer.

  14. how can they leave them behind while soldiers are bringing home puppies from Afghanistan???? Makes no sense!!!!!

  15. I was under the impression that a new law was signed into place several months ago reclassifying dogs as ‘personnel’ and making their return to the states mandatory.

    1. I thought that also. Due to the numbers of dogs left behind and the outcry of soldiers…..that a ruling was made to not leave them behind. Another government promise . BROKEN

  16. They’re war veterans just like their biped counterparts. Bring them home. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how it’s animals are treated.” – Gandhi

  17. Uncle Sam doesn’t give a shit about our soldiers, why are we surprised about these dogs? It’s all sick and sad in every aspect.

  18. Just like everything else. Disposable. If one needs a home here, I’ll take it. Male, Female, Young, Old, Damaged, I will take it.

  19. This makes me so angry. They are just as much heroes and deserve to be treated like it instead of abandoned to likely be killed. This breaks my heart how heartless our government is to spend money on pointless things but not on bringing these heroes back home where they belong

  20. Why are their lives expendable? Especially when they are saving the lives of our brothers, fathers and husbands. Shame on the government. Heartless

  21. National geographic June 2014 did a issue on these dogs I. Combat . People please read it this is not true !!!!!!!!

    1. It is true!!!!! Some have been brought home,not the majority! There are several organizations working hard to get more of them home! The sad fact is our govt. considers them disposable! The laws that have passed-like all laws take time to implement and even then they will only put a band aid on this.

  22. Bring them all back. They are not disposable items. How hard can it be to bring them back the same way they got there? Shame on all involved in abandoning them.

  23. Dogs save lives, yet the govt abandons them? This makes me so ANGRY. Heartless bureaucracy. Our dogs have feelings and provide unconditional love. The least we can do is bring them home.

  24. Someone with sure knowledge of and ability to address this situation needs to start a petition. I know tons of people would sign.

  25. Bring them all home. The US military, state department, whatever, should be ashamed and embarrassed. What kind of people are we, to leave our friends behind? Disgusting. Inexcusable.

  26. Shame on them. All of the soldiers need to come home, ESPECIALLY the ones who were not asked if they wanted to enlist or not. Those dogs were drafted!

  27. This is not true. The rules have changed, thanks to the Commander in Chief, and handlers are given right of first refusal.

  28. This is not the first time – they did it back in Nam as well. A lot of handlers had bad memories of leaving their mates behind. How frickin hard can it be to transport them back? One C130 is all it takes.

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