Kaiserslautern shelter won’t house U.S. pets

A scan of Loki’s chip shows she was originally owned by Americans. The Kaiserslautern animal shelter is no longer accepting unwanted American pets.

By MARK PATTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 29, 2010

WIESBADEN, Germany — A German animal shelter in Kaiserslautern will no longer accept unwanted American pets or allow Americans to adopt animals.

Anne Knauber, a veterinarian and head of the Kaiserslautern Tierheim in Einsiedlerhof, said when the American animal shelter on Pulaski Barracks closed in 2008, an influx of unwanted animals pushed the German facility to maximum capacity.

"At first the military said if they shut down the facility … they would give us money," said Knauber. She said a year later they told her regulations prohibit them from giving the German shelter money.

Knauber said the facility’s annual expenses are about 420,000 euros, which comes from the city and private donations from German citizens and companies.

"We get no money at all from the Americans," said Knauber, pointing out that German taxpayers are paying for the care of abandoned American pets.

Ken White, a spokesman for Installation Management Command-Europe, said there is an unapproved concept for Morale, Welfare and Recreation to place pet care businesses at some installations. White said if approved, such businesses wouldn’t open until 2012.

Knauber said up to half the animals at the German shelter came from Americans. The facility currently houses 35 dogs, 60 cats and more than 50 rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, hamsters, rats and chinchillas. The shelter can tell if a dog is of American origin by the letters used in a microchip implanted in the dog, but reliable figures are hard to come by, since many owners bypass the chip.

Capt. John Ross, a spokesman for the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, said in some cases it is possible that the pets ran away and later the family left Germany without finding them.

Knauber doesn’t buy that argument, saying owners should be responsible for keeping track of their animals.

A letter sent by Knauber last week to the Rheinland-Pfalz Ministry of Interior and Sports asking for help says it cost the shelter 28,950 euros in 2009 to house American animals, not including veterinarian care.

The problem of abandoned American pets isn’t limited to Kaiserslautern.

Ina Lohmann, a dog trainer at a German school near Wiesbaden, said she has trained many American dogs. One of the American dogs there, she said, was abandoned when its owners left their duty station. Another American couple rescued the dog.

"A German man found the dog in the flat, the owners had been back in the States for two weeks," said Lohmann.

The issue of troops abusing, killing or abandoning their pets was one of the topics reviewed by the 2009 Commission on Military Justice and recommended for inclusion in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The Joint Service Committee has agreed to consider the issue but hasn’t made a recommendation, said Jonathan Tracy, assistant director of the National Institute of Military Justice.

There is currently nothing in the UCMJ that addresses abandonment or neglect of pets, other than military working dogs. Troops can be charged under host-nation laws or if their commander desires, under Article 134 of the UCMJ— "conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."

The Europe Regional Veterinary Command said there are roughly 50,000 pets with records at clinics in Europe, but the military is unable to estimate how many cases of abandonment occur each year.

Stars and Stripes’ Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this story.

Scooter, a dachshund, stands under the protection of Sarge, a German shepherd mix at the animal shelter in Kaiserslautern-Einsiedlerhof. The two were taken to the shelter by an American servicemember who left the country. The shelter is no longer accepting unwanted American pets. Holding the dogs is Jenny Grünnagel, an animal handler at the shelter.