Mil Working Dogs Should Get Benefits, Too


Like many military service members, Army Veterinarian Technician Lisa Philips struggled to pay expensive medical bills for her four-legged family member, nine-year old Belgian Malinois Gizmo. To help pay for Gizmo’s medical care, she had to take a second job at a civilian veterinarian clinic that gave her an employee discount.

But Gizmo was not just any dog; he was a retired military working canine that needed special medical care. Unfortunately though, once these dogs fulfill their faithful service, they are classified as “excess equipment” and the Defense Department does not pay for medical treatment nor is there a standardized process for people to donate money for transport back to the United States.

There are about 3,000 dogs proudly serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, with about 300-350 retiring each year. Six-hundred canine heroes deploy to multiple war zones, including Afghanistan, Africa and Kuwait. But when their time is up they are considered “surplus” and the potential adoptee must shoulder huge transportation bills in addition to lifetime medical care. This burden dramatically decreases the pool of applicants that would otherwise be interested in these dogs.  Army Maj. Kevin Hanrahan has heard multiple stories of troops unable to adopt their military working dog simply because they couldn’t afford the veterinarian care.

So Lisa decided to do something about it. After she left the Army, she researched the issue and wrote an essay on the policy for her college English class. Her professor was so impressed with her writing that she advised her to send it to Congress. Through Lisa’s advocacy efforts in the military working dog community, she was connected to Rachel Lee, a Gold Star Mom to Cpl. Dustin Lee, a soldier killed in action. Rachel adopted her son’s working dog and connected Lisa to Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC). Jones took an interest in her cause and after reviewing her information on a proposed solution, he agreed to sponsor a bill.

The bill is now known as H.R. 4103, The Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act.  It has a sister bill in the Senate introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) known as S.2134.  So moved by her cause, I e-mailed three of my federal legislators and two responded letting me know they signed on. Sometimes all it takes is a concerned letter from a constituent.

The bill is included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. The bill costs no taxpayer dollars, sets up a charitable foundation to assist with transportation costs and allows people to donate frequent flier miles to pay for the working dog’s transport. And through the bill, the Secretary of Defense can create a special recognition for military working dogs killed in action or other exceptional meritorious service. Many hope to see it pass in the fall, but more co-sponsors are needed.

Today, The United States War Dog Association, Retired Military Working Dog Assistance Organization and Military Working Dog Adoptions are providing support for our canine heroes, handlers and potential adoptees as well as working tirelessly to advocate for this bill.

Lisa’s story is so amazing because it shows that no matter what your status is in life, you can make a difference. You don’t have to be the CEO of a major cooperation or be rich. You just have to have the motivation to succeed and preserve in the face of adversity. I had the chance to ask Lisa what advice she would give to others interested in perusing a cause. Here was what she said:

1) Follow what is in your heart. If you are open and honest about your goals, dreams, and communications with others, it will shine through in all you do, and people will gravitate towards you and want to help you.

2) Keep positive people in your circle. There will be people out there that will tell you that you can’t do it, and try to bring you down with negativity. Stay clear of them.

3) Ask questions to supporters. It helps to raise awareness for your mission.

4) Educate your community on your mission. If there are summer camps, parades, city events, and other venues, ask to be involved with them.

5) The number one thing to do is network. Create a Twitter account for what you are doing. Create a fan page on Facebook and Tweet and Facebook every day. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to strangers (start with folks who have the same interest, more influence in numbers). That one simple step of reaching out to a stranger is what really gave my mission the kick-start it needed.

To support Lisa and her mission helping military working dogs, please visit her website.

“Like” Help Get Military Working Dogs on Facebook.


Theresa Donnelly is an active-duty Navy Lieutenant with 16 years of military service, having done 10 years enlisted with multiple overseas deployments. She is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, an online pet resource for military families living in Hawaii. The blog and Facebook page provide information on moving with pets in the military, boarding information, pet policies in state and federal governments, and overall ways to celebrate the human-animal bond. She routinely partners with local and national animal nonprofits that place special emphasis on military and their companion animals, such as Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @tdonnelly76.

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  • Sarah

    I really pray that everyone who reads the articles on this site takes the 2 minutes out of their day to send a copy of the letters on her site. Ask service members how many dogs have saved lives “over there” and I am sure every one has a story. Please, please send the letter to your representatives!

    • Jay

      Dam right they should they serve, protect and some gave their life’s. I miss my dog from some of you may remember him. He was called F*&% Head by most on the DMZ but he’s/She a Marine like the rest of us. F*&% Head is long come he gave it all. If he made it home I sure hope the Marines would have taken care of his medical needs. I know I would I say Semper Fi to all the dogs who served and a side bar I never seen one of them running off to Canada. Military dogs get Honorable Discharges not Clemency Discharge. And yes they have rank and my dog got busted for pissing on the captains boots.

    • Winston ODell

      I love dogs but I simply do not agree with you. The story above is incredibly stupid. And I know most real veterans feel the same.

  • Mitchell

    Oh no! I have a disabilty appeal pending with the VA for 2 years, and now dogs are going to further clog the system with claims. I’m joking (except for the part about waiting 2 years and probably 3 or 4 more before the VA rejects my appeal). I love all animals (except for homo-sapiens), especially dogs. I really believe that dogs are the crowning glory of God’s creatures. No matter who you are, what you are, what race, ethnicity or nationality – your dog thinks that you are the best person in the world. Military dogs deserve much more recognition than they get. They serve multiple deployments and are selected as major targets by the enemy. This is a great story and should be read by all. Remember DOG spelled backwards is GOD. I’m sure GOD choose DOGs for that special title.

  • Tom Batsios

    She knew what she was getting. If the problems persist I will take the dog. I have two and a third will not be that much extra.

  • elvinthompson

    I wish government will take care working Dog they save a lots of G.I live how can they that I have a german shepard she is dovoted to me.


  • Harry Costick

    I was a sentry dog handler in Viet Nam. I would like to see this happen for MWD, was not the case for many dogs that were left in Viet Nam

    HC 595MP com

  • David Robinson

    This is just stupid, while we wailt for our benfits that have been earned, now we are more interested in animals then people what a crock, Htis makes me ashmaed that the our leadres have more interest in this then straitening outthe V.A> system that has since its start been screwed up. Marine vet 73-80

  • Steve Borgwardt

    Dogs are not humans. They are owned like any other piece of equipment (chattle property). Therefore like othe kinds of property, they should be treated correctly and hopefully with lots of love. That is all they ask for.

    • MasterSergeantD

      Yea, like the slaves…..

    • Sarah

      I wonder if you would feel the same way if you read hundreds of stories of dogs going in first and losing their lives instead of a human being. Shame on you.

  • jusme

    Only if their gay….

  • jim

    I feel sorry for the dogs but there is a bigger problem. All the men and women should be taken care of first. And the VA has more important issues to correct. The puppies are just like the horses , mules and birds ,we have used to assist our military. As I said, I am sorry but people come first.

  • Winston

    Ray Bradbury is known for saying that “Dogs Think Everyday Is Christmas”, he even wrote a book about it. And, it’s generally accepted that dogs are humanity’s best friend from the animal world. But, it stops there. What a bunch of idiots ‘bleeding hearts’ are. Liberals and bleeding hearts are completely guilty of being intolerant of other views and beliefs.

  • MasterSergeantD

    I think that my dog and cat should get dependent pay as well. And support from the Military Families network. And should be able to go to the camp that the other kiddies go to so they can understand the stresses of my deployment. And they should have a support group. And someone should go over and take them out so they won’t be sad when I’m away.And send them Girl Scout cookies, but not the chocolate ones, they are not good for them.

    • Sarah

      I would rather my tax dollars go to this (even though it requires no tax dollars) than keep paying salaries of the fobbits who sit on their butt for a year in Afghanistan then come back with “ptsd”

  • Benny

    Fox 101

    Next to ask for PTSD will be War Horse, and we wonder Y