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Is It Really OK to Put Dogs in Harm's Way for Military Purposes?

An FBI tactical dog dies on his third week on the job. Shouldn't we be doing more to prevent this?

 |  Mar 27th 2013  |   30 Contributions


We give good dog news along with the bad and the ugly, but it can make your stomach churn to read a story like this one that ran last week in the New York Times, describing the death of an FBI dog named Ape. It was the tactical dog's third week on the job.

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Ape's flag-draped coffin at FBI headquarters in Virginia.

The two-year-old Czech German Shepherd was shot in the chest by a gunman who was promptly killed by return fire from Ape’s team. Despite being rushed to an emergency veterinary hospital in an armored vehicle, Ape died shortly after arrival. Ape had been on active duty for the FBI for a little over two weeks.

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Police dog. Image by Shutterstock

“Ape was doing what he was trained to do and made the ultimate sacrifice for his team,” the agency said in a statement. “His actions were heroic and prevented his teammates from being seriously wounded or killed.” Ape was buried on Monday the agency’s headquarters in Quantico, Va.; his name will be added to a memorial wall dedicated to dogs killed in the line of duty.

For some dog lovers, the statement that Ape “made the ultimate sacrifice” is cold comfort. "It's a tragedy," says Chris Hulbert of Los Angeles, a publicist and film producer, who was saddened to learn that military and paramilitary dogs are classified as equipment.“These dogs are not equipment, and they’re not heroes -– they are victims.”

Hulbert has a point: The dog didn’t make a sacrifice -– he was sacrificed. Are we such a primitive culture that our law enforcers perform animal sacrifices on the job? Surely the United States of America, leader in science and technology, can do better.

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Police dog in training. Image by Shutterstock

To get people talking about the issue, Hulbert created a Facebook page called the American Canine Civil Liberties Union (ACCLU). His motivation, he says, was “multiple conversations with friends in law enforcement and the military, who hesitantly agreed with me when I brought up the topic of these dogs and how they're treated. This issue is barely now coming to light, despite major news coverage.”

Dogs do so much for humans, offering comfort and companionship, lowering our blood pressure, and using their astonishing sense of smell to detect explosives. Is the state of American technology such that, in 2013, we can't build robots to stand in for dogs in highly dangerous situations? Isn’t it high time to make that a priority so more dogs don't die the way Ape did?

At the very least, what about body armor to better protect the dogs? According to the Times article, Ape was sent ahead of his team “equipped with a camera.” The reporters make no mention of protective gear the dog may or may not have been wearing.

Was the dog supplied with a bulletproof vest? The reporters don’t even raise the issue, and that’s a serious lapse -- though the article does state that “the FBI and police declined to discuss the specifics of why and how Ape was used in the raid.” When the mainstream media reports on dogs, crucial questions like this need to be asked, even if they cannot be answered.

Note to all journalists in all media platforms, print and broadcast: Please maintain the same high investigative standards in reporting about dogs as you would about any other subject. Dogs deserve to have their lives and deaths respectfully recorded with accuracy and attention to detail -- especially when they perform so nobly in service to us.

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Training a dog for police work. Image by Shutterstock.

Even if you don’t care about dogs and their welfare or how they’re covered in the media, as an American taxpayer perhaps, you likely care about how government money is spent. What do you think when thousands of dollars of training time and effort go into a magnificent working dog, only to be wasted weeks after the dog completes the course? Is there any way to prevent this from happening again?

On October 28, 2009, another FBI tactical dog, a Belgian Malinois named Freddy, was killed in the line of duty. He’d started the job 13 months earlier.

R.I.P., Ape and Freddy. May your lives not have been lost in vain.

What do you think about dogs being used as military and paramilitary equipment? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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