There’s a special group of service members who’ve worked hard and risked their lives to keep people safe in war zones, detecting contraband and explosives and tracking down suspects. But when they return home with disabilities resulting from their service, they don’t receive complimentary medical care.
We’re talking about military working dogs, whose veteran handlers often foot the bill for expensive veterinary care. (Not to mention the shipping bill to return them to the States, which often costs thousands of dollars.)
Mike Dowling, retired Marine Corps Dog Handler and author of Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and His Military Working Dog, recently spoke with Take Part about the problem.
“As a veteran, if I have a service-connected disability, I can go to the Veterans Affairs and get free-of-charge medical care,” he said. “But military working dogs who have service-connected disabilities, they don’t have any kind of free-of-charge medical care or even a discounted medical care. So these handlers are going to Washington D.C. to advocate for some kind of [fund] to be set up so that when they adopt these dogs they can pay for their care in retirement.”
One such instance is that of Cristina Collesano, a U.S. Navy Dog Handler. She had to pay $3,000 to transport her adopted service dog Zizi back to Michigan from Italy. After years of service during which she kept military zones safe, Zizi developed severe arthritis in her spine and shoulders as well as bone cancer. “She’s much more than just a dog to me,” Collesano said.
On behalf of their canines, military dog handlers are urging D.C. lawmakers to actually implement legislation that they passed last year: the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, which allows defense officials to create programs that fund military working dog medical care and transportation. Since then, no programs have yet been created (due to a loophole in the law), and for some concerned military members and their hard-working service animals, the time for action is now.
Editor’s note: Cristina Collesano’s last name was incorrectly spelled in a previous version of this post.