US is re­spon­si­ble for bomb-sniff­ing dogs’ hor­ri­ble deaths

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Morn­ing Call colum­nist Paul Muschick can be reached at 610-820-6582 or [email protected]

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED

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.

Paul Muschick

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