US is responsible for bomb-sniffing dogs’ horrible deaths
Zoe looks happy in the photo. It’s almost as if she’s smiling, her mouth wide open, tongue hanging out, ears up and alert. That’s how dogs should look. Carefree. Zoe no longer is with us, unfortunately. And she didn’t have a peaceful end.
The Belgian Malinois died of heat stroke. It’s a terrible way to go. She essentially baked to death. She deserved better. She was 2.
What’s especially sad is Zoe wasn’t just any dog. She was trained by the U.S. government to detect explosives and was sent to the Middle East to fight terrorism.
She died in July 2017, nine months after she was given to authorities in Jordan, a country that had a history of failing to care for bomb-sniffing dogs it received from the U.S.
At least 10 canines died from medical problems between 2008 and 2016, and others lived in unhealthy conditions in Jordan, according to an audit by the Department of State’s inspector general.
The audit describes the canine program in Jordan as being in “dire straits.” Yet the U.S. continued to train dogs, at taxpayers’ expense, and send them there.
This is disturbing on several levels. I’m a dog lover. I get frustrated when I see dogs that aren’t taken care of. Owners have an obligation to keep their dogs healthy. That goes for people like me who keep dogs as pets, and for the government that uses them to catch terrorists.
It’s shocking to see photos of government-trained bomb sniffing dogs that are grungy and gaunt. The inspector general’s report includes several.
Three show emaciated dogs, their ribs visible through their fur. One shows a dog with toenails so long that its paw looks like Freddy Krueger’s hand. Another shows a dog with engorged ticks on its ear. Yet another shows a kennel with an empty water bowl sitting amid dirt and feces.
This is bigger than just economics but you also can’t ignore the cost. The audit says millions have been spent on this program. Mentors working to enhance Jordan’s program are expected to cost $1.5 million over three years.
As of last September, between 163 and 189 explosive detecting dogs were working in 10 countries, most of them in the Middle East. At the time, U.S. authorities did not hold those nations to any formal “standards of care.”
As a result, there were no assurances that those countries kept the dogs healthy enough to perform their roles of finding explosives and preventing terrorism, the inspector general said.
Guidelines were implemented during the investigation, which started in May 2018.
Hopefully, that will prevent what happened to Zoe from happening to other dogs. She wasn’t the only recent casualty.
Around the time she perished, another Belgian Malinois, Mencey, arrived in Jordan. Less than a year later, Mencey became severely ill due to a tick-borne disease. He was sent back to the states, where he was diagnosed with a second illness that caused renal failure. He was euthanized. Mencey was 3.
Mencey’s condition prompted the U.S. to send a veterinary team, at a cost of $540,000, to Jordan to give the dogs preventative medicine and collars to protect them from fleas and ticks. The team provided 10 test kits for Jordanian personnel to test dogs for disease, but the kits were not used or went missing.
That team may have saved the life of at least one dog, though.
They found that Athena, a 2-year-old female Belgian Malinois, appeared to be “severely emaciated” and was living in a filthy kennel. She was returned to the U.S. and recovered.
American authorities are supposed to check on these dogs periodically, but there is no standard schedule, according to the audit. As a result, there is a lack of information about them, in some cases including how many still are working.
Records that were available of visits since 2015 showed dogs were well cared for in Lebanon and Bahrain; were overweight and had skin issues in Indonesia; and were overweight but well cared for in Morocco. There were no records of welfare checks being made on dogs in Mexico.
The worst problems were found in Jordan in 2016. The audit said kennels were not maintained to prevent the spread of disease, and medical care was inadequate. At least 20 dogs were found to be of retirement age but still were working. Several had hip dysplasia and arthritis and had “lost the will to work.”
Dogs were overworked, searching large numbers of vehicles, and lacked proper shelter, sanitation and care. One official said several dogs had died of heat exhaustion.
The Department of State responded to the findings by sending trainers to Jordan in 2016, but the inspector general said it still has concerns. It recommended the U.S. stop sending dogs to Jordan until there is a “sufficient sustainability plan in place to ensure their health and welfare.”
The bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Counterterrorism rejected that recommendation. They said that would hurt Jordan’s efforts to fight terrorism. They said the dogs are a necessary part of “national security related efforts focused on protecting American interests.”
The American interests include these dogs. They deserve to be treated better.
Bomb-sniffing dogs Athena, left, and Zoe were trained by the U.S. government and given to Jordan to fight terrorism. Both were neglected during their service there, according to an audit, and Zoe died of heat stroke.