WASHINGTON — They served in the Civil War. They were there for American soldiers during both world wars. One was even on SEAL Team Six, the military team that killed Osama Bin Laden.
But military dogs do not always get to go home with their military handlers after serving together in war.
During a Capitol Hill event on Wednesday, legislators argued it should be easier for these veterans to reunite with their dogs.
“The relationship between the dogs and servicemen, that shouldn’t be broken,” Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young said. “That dog should be theirs.”
“If it weren’t for their dogs — their friends and companions – in Iraq and Afghanistan, an untold thousands of members of our armed forces might not be alive today,” Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said.
Many of these dogs are trained to sniff out improvised explosive devices.
Robin Ganzert, the president and CEO of the American Humane Association, estimated that each war dog is estimated to have saved up to 200 U.S. military service members during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Soldiers have been relying on these four-footed soldiers since the beginning of warfare,” Ganzert said. “Did you know that the Romans used dogs in their military campaigns? Did you know that during the Civil War, the dogs were reported to have been used as guard soldiers? Did you know that in World War I, thousands of dogs were used as couriers?”
Ganzert explained that military policy dictates that when a military dog is retired while overseas — and not while back in the United States — it is not given a military transport home. That makes it difficult for some veterans to afford the costs to send the retired dog home.
“Some of these dogs are slipping through the cracks,” Ganzert said.
“The solution is quite simple, and it doesn’t cost anything… lets bring them home and retire them on U.S. soil,” Ganzert said.
Among the dogs present at the Capitol Hill event: Ryky, a seven year old Belgian Malinois, who was trained to locate hidden explosives and spent four years with handler U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Harrington on two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Ryky was awarded a K-9 Medal for Exceptional Service after helping injured soldiers escape after an ambush in Afghanistan.
There was also U.S. Army Sergeant Jason Bos and his dog Cila. “She’s my friend,” Bos said. “And she’s the first one I talk to when I turn the light on each and every day.”
Bos and Cila, a chocolate Labrador, were reunited in April, after being apart for a year and half. The duo served together on nearly 100 missions together in Iraq.
Bos described how a back injury forced him out of the military, causing Cila to be relocated to another service member.
Holding back tears, Bos recalled the separation: “I was hopeful that one day, I’d be able to see her again.”
A year and half later, Cila was retired and Bos had his chance to get the canine back. But as a full-time student, Bos said he didn’t have the money to transport Bila back to the United States. After connecting with a military dog group who paid the costs, Cila was returned to Bos in Michigan.
Kristen Maurer of the group Mission K9 Rescue — which provides monetary, transportation assistance to help reunite these dogs — asked the audience at Wednesday’s press conference to imagine their dogs as “your protector on the frontline, your comrade, the very thing that ran ahead of you to make sure there were no explosives in your foot path so that you can safely do your job.”
“On top of all that, your emotional support,” Maurer said. “In some of the most dangerous and scary times of your life. The bond will become more than just human-canine. It becomes life and death.”
Photos by The Daily Caller’s Seth Richardson.