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Adopting retired working dogs can be challenging

After years of faithful service, military working dogs in the Pacific do what any other servicemember does, they retire to spend the rest of their lives with a loving family — an adopted one.

On Okinawa, there are two potential sources of adoptable military working dogs: the Air Force’s Kadena Air Base, and the Marine Corps’ Camp Foster.

Euthanasia is always a last resort for Kadena’s retiring dogs, said Tech. Sgt. Steve Montez, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of 18th Security Forces Squadron’s military working dogs element.

Like all military working dogs, a retiring Kadena dog must first go through a temperament evaluation, primarily to make sure that it is no longer aggressive toward people, Montez said in an e-mail.

Once a dog is deemed adoptable, preference is given to former canine handlers — or at the very least, people with dog-handling experience, Montez said.

At Camp Foster, meanwhile, military working dogs also are evaluated for adoption once a kennel master or veterinary officer has made the determination that the animals are too old to work, said Marine spokesman 2nd Lt. Kurt Stahl.

Once a dog is deemed fit for adoption, the Marine working dog section advertises locally “to find suitable and well-qualified owners,” Stahl said.

Potential owners “must have experience handling large dogs and must undergo a thorough application process,” Stahl said.

This includes a recommendation from the Marine military working dog section and the kennel master.

Like all working dog adoption applications, the application is then sent to the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where all military working dogs are trained. A board meets each month to review and approve each adoption.

The dogs themselves, however, are adopted directly from the kennel where they are retired. Each potential new owner must first meet the animal, face-to-face — no exceptions, according to Barbara Stadts, the 341st disposition coordinator.

No Marine Corps military working dogs were available for adoption from Camp Foster last year.

However, Marine military working dog Jumbo — a 9-year-old German Sheppard — is in the process of adoption this year, Stahl said. Jumbo is being retired because of lower spine and hip problems.

A civilian with “experience handling large dogs” has submitted an adoption package with approval currently pending from Lackland Air Force Base, Stahl said.

Kadena did not adopt out any military working dogs last year either, but officials expect one dog might be available for adoption toward the end of this year, Montez said.

Zuro, a 9-year-old German Sheppard, “is starting to show early signs of hip displacement,” Montez said. This is due to high operational tempo and deployments the dog has participated in over its career, he said.

Anyone interested in inquiring about the availability of retiring military working dogs to adopt can call Kadena’s Military Working Dog section at DSN 632-5080 or the Marine Kennel Master at DSN 632-5835 or DSN 632-5600.

In South Korea, servicemembers and their families also are welcome to apply to adopt retiring military working dogs, according to 8th Army spokesman Lt. Col. B.J. Bailey.

Five dogs have been identified as candidates, he said.

“A few people” have expressed interest in adopting them, he said.

Kennel masters in South Korea are reluctant to euthanize an adoptable dog, Bailey said, with the procedure reserved for dogs who are sick, in pain, or “too aggressive to adjust to life as pets.”

The Air Force’s 8th Security Forces Squadron at Kunsan Air Base also has seen working dogs adopted from their kennels.

“If a dog is adoptable, then we do our best to find someone to adopt them before considering euthanasia,” said Staff Sgt. Bernie Hall, a military working dog trainer.

The squadron adopted out one of its dogs in the past year using the standard procedure, Hall said.

No dogs were euthanized in the last year, he said.

People interested in adopting dogs from Kunsan should call the Military Working Dog section at DSN 782-4969.

To learn more about adopting a retired military working dog, go to www.workingdogs.com

Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this story.


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