Sunday, March 23, 2008

Adopting a four-legged veteran

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Mar 23, 2008 10:01:23 EDT

Benny was declared “excess” by the military and scheduled to be euthanized by January, according to his military medical records.

Today, Benny — a spry German shepherd — is anything but excess to Debbie Kandoll, who found him during a determined search to adopt a retired military working dog.

Even at the advanced dog age of 10, with degenerative bone disease, Benny has become an integral part of the Kandoll family since he was adopted from Langley Air Force Base, Va., on Jan. 4.

Kandoll, the wife of an Air Force Reserve officer currently on active duty, wants to get the word out to other military families and civilians that retired dogs are available for adoption at military working dog facilities across the country, as are some younger dogs who may have washed out of the program.

She has launched a Web site that includes phone numbers for 125 military working dog facilities.

The idea of supporting the troops, said Kandoll, who lives near Goldsboro, N.C., “should apply to all veterans, not just the human ones.”

Kandoll said she thought at first that she could adopt retired dogs only through the Defense Military Working Dog School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

“People should check with regional facilities to see what is available,” she said.

As for Benny, he’s thriving and his mobility has improved, she said — partly because he now gets to sleep on comfy pillows instead of concrete.

Although Benny is no longer on military patrols and sniffing for drugs, he is anything but retired. He visits hospitals, including the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Durham, N.C., as a certified therapy dog.

Kandoll and Benny make appearances at local events to raise awareness and encourage more civilians to adopt retired military working dogs.

Last year, 360 retired military working dogs were adopted or transferred to law enforcement agencies, according to officials at the Defense Military Working Dog School, with the 341st Training Squadron at Lackland.

Of those, 103 were transferred to law enforcement agencies, 139 were adopted at Lackland and the remaining dogs were adopted elsewhere, many likely by former military working dog handlers.

Under a law passed in 2000, dogs declared “excess” by the Defense Department can be adopted by law-enforcement agencies, prior military handlers and the general public.

“A lot of people still don’t know they can adopt dogs,” said Ron Aiello, founder of the U.S. War Dogs Association and a former military dog handler in Vietnam. “They don’t know dogs were used in Vietnam and that they are being used now. I’d like to see more veterans adopt military working dogs.”

Aiello said he works closely with Kandoll to provide information to people who want to adopt dogs. Interest has come from a number of Vietnam veteran dog handlers, many of whom had to leave their dogs behind in Vietnam.

He and Kandoll think adopting the dogs can be therapeutic for veterans.

To adopt a military working dog, prospective owners fill out a basic application with questions about their experience with dogs, other pets in the household, yard size, fencing and children in the household, officials said.

Once a match for a prospective adoption is made, an agreement is signed for the transfer of ownership, in which the new owner releases the Defense Department from liability.

The dogs are free, but the new owners must pay all costs, including transportation.

Officials at the Military Working Dog School said they have not had to euthanize any dogs for lack of someone to adopt them. In fact, they’ve had to establish a waiting list because there are not enough dogs to meet the high demand for them in the community and with law-enforcement agencies.

Kandoll’s dream is to build a Web site that connects people to working dogs. “These people at Lackland go above and beyond to place dogs in a home,” she said. “But it’s such an overwhelming job. The problem is that the word hasn’t gotten out that after the handlers and law enforcement, civilians can adopt the dogs.

“That’s why the kennel master had this smile in his voice when I called and asked if he had a dog available for adoption on the afternoon of Nov. 29,” she said.

“He said, ‘Yes, I do. ... His name is Benny, and he’s a great big goofball.’”

Kandoll had checked with Lackland officials earlier in November, but Benny was not in their database of dogs available for adoption, although he had been declared “excess” — ready to be retired — in October.

“If I hadn’t had the military connection, I would not have known how to contact these other facilities,” she said.

She and her husband drove to Langley Air Force Base on Jan. 4 and picked up Benny.

As part of the adoption process, Kandoll received Benny’s military medical records.

She quickly noticed that on Nov. 29, Benny officially had been scheduled for euthanasia in December or January. Nov. 29 was the same day Kandoll had made her 20th phone call — the one that led her to Benny.

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