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Slotkin introduces bill to upgrade classification of military dogs

Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin

U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) has introduced legislation to reclassify and honor dogs who serve in the military.

The Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act would create a new classification for working dogs to accurately reflect their contributions to our Armed Forces, along with an award for dogs killed in action or that have performed an exceptionally courageous act.

“From patrolling combat zones to detecting explosives, military working dogs serve with honor and distinction,” said Slotkin. “I’ve introduced legislation to fully recognize working dogs’ service by reclassifying them from ‘’equipment’ to ‘canine members of the Armed Forces.’”

The legislation was partly the result of conversations Slotkin had with Phil Weitlauf, the Founder and President of the War Dog Memorial in Lyon Township.

“Military Working Dogs have been fighting alongside our men and women in uniform for the past 100 years. They are living, breathing warriors that are well trained to save lives and they do that very well,” said Weitlauf. “They are NOT EQUIPMENT, they are Members of the Armed Forces. Once they are retired by the Veterinarian Corp they are entitled to healthcare as veterans, such as myself, and a million more. I am asking Congress to change their classification from Equipment to Canine Members of the Armed Forces and give them health benefits they so richly deserve for their service and sacrifices for serving our country.”

Slotkin, who introduced the bipartisan legislation with U.S. Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), said the bill’s purpose is to recognize that whether patrolling combat zones, detecting explosives or performing guard duties, military working dogs have served with honor and distinction and are not merely equipment but critical Canine Members of the Armed Forces deserving of recognition, dignity, and respect.

In 2012, Representative Walter Jones, Jr. (R-NC) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sponsored a similar version of this bill that was signed into law in 2013 by President Obama signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2013 (HR 4310), which included most of the Jones-Blumenthal bill.

The Jones-Blumenthal bill directed the Department of Defense to transfer military working dogs to a military facility for retirement and adoption, provided the Secretary of Defense with the authority to create a veterinary care program for adopted retired military working dogs, and authorized the Secretary of Defense to accept travel premiums (such as frequent flier miles) to facilitate adoptions.

However, two provisions of the Jones-Blumenthal bill did not make it into the FY13 NDAA. A provision specifying that military working dogs are not to be considered as “equipment” and should instead be canine members of the armed forces and a provision that directed the Secretary of Defense to create an award or recognition for military working dogs killed in action or for exceptional service.

“Courageous canines have long stood side by side with our armed forces, displaying unwavering loyalty and selfless dedication,” said Christine Myran OTR, Executive Director, Blue Star Service Dogs. “It is time we recognize their invaluable contributions by granting them the retirement and adoption assistance they deserve. Let us no longer view these remarkable beings as mere equipment, but as esteemed members of our armed forces, deserving of honor, respect, and a future filled with love and care.”

The bill was introduced on Tuesday and sent to the House Armed Services Committee for consideration.

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