WASHINGTON – Once a dog is declared "excess" by the Defense Department — meaning it cannot be used in another capacity by the military — it becomes a candidate for adoption.
But adopting a military dog is not as simple as going down to the local pound for a pooch.
The military first evaluates both the dog and the potential owner, before requiring that the adopting family sign an agreement holding the government harmless should the dog return to its old, warlike ways.
"There are a lot of people out there who are interested," said Maj. John Probst, commander of the military working dog school at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Probst cautions that the dogs have spent eight to 10 years of their lives being trained to have aggressive tendencies. Families must understand the full working capacity of the dog and "how potentially dangerous this dog can be," and must view slides of military dog bites to show them the potential danger.
Before they are turned over for adoption, dogs are evaluated for medical condition and temperament, which includes their bite history and their possessiveness toward things like their food bowl and kennel, Probst said.
The size and makeup of the potential adopting family is also evaluated, as well as yard size and the number of hours the dog would be left at home alone.
The new owner must agree to provide good medical care, Probst said. The military also demands a notarized "hold harmless" agreement to protect it from liability should the dog attack.
The military had long opposed adoption of service dogs, until the liability issue was worked out. But Probst cautions that the program is still a work in progress.
"There's a lot of things we haven't figured out yet," he said.
A dog could have had as many as 10 to 12 handlers during his career, for example, and officials have not figured out who would get preference in a dispute. Police departments have long been able to adopt the dogs and they lead the current list of potential adopters, followed by previous handlers and others who are humanely capable of caring for the animal, Probst said.
So far only one dog, Ronny, has been successfully adopted. The adoption of a second dog, Arno, is pending, Probst said. Both dogs are 11-year-old Belgian Malinois.
Lackland spokesman Gary Emery said recently that the base had only received two other serious inquiries about adopting dogs. But Probst predicts that of the almost 2,000 military working dogs, as many as 15 could be adopted each year once the program is fully implemented.
Capital News Service contributed to this report