UPDATE: Dogs on Deployment has teamed up with us to launch a petition a Change.org asking our military leadership to standardize military pet policies. We have more than 4,000 signatures and plan to share the feedback with our military housing officials, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress and The White House. Please sign the petition today and let our leaders know we must keep family military pets in the family:
It’s been some time since we last blogged on this subject and have learned a lot since then and how this issue is more complicated than simply eliminating military housing breed bans.
This is why we’re now advocating for a joint pet policy for all of military housing. All pets would be judged on their behavior, regardless of subjective breed identification.
Why? As a combined research effort with not-for-profits Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Patriots, we offer this rationale. As we’ve transitioned from government-owned to privatized housing, there is little to no consistency across the services or by duty station regarding housing pet policies, specifically numerical limits and breed.
These policies need to be standardized to prevent service members from having to relinquish their animals when moving – animals they consider members of the family and that contribute positively to their morale and family life. With so much uncertanity in military life because of constant moves and deployments, pets are a stabilizing component for helping families in stressful times. Some service members are required to live in government housing and, as more troops operate in a joint environment, the policy should account for these realities.
The military would instead focus on strong enforcement of general dangerous dog policies and a robust pet education program to ensure troops’ safety and quality of life. This is a more effective and efficient solution to protecting military personnel. Additionally, we ask for an independent panel to study the effectiveness of military housing breed bans and whether these bans have made troops safer.
The facts (please feel free to repost):
• While the military allows pets in government housing, the numerical limits vary, causing confusion among families and the potential for family separation. The Marine Corps and Navy allow two, but the Army and Air Force leave it up to the individual installation. In an article dated April 23, 2012 in Military Times Ivan Bolden, chief of Army privatization, supports a DOD-wide policy. He said, “We want families to have a consistent housing experience across the board.”
• The methods to identify a breed are suspect, further complicating breed bans. DNA testing is not accurate for breed identification. In many cases, residents sign an agreement with housing simply stating they don’t possess the banned breed. The Army and Air Force bans Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, Chows and Wolf hybrids. The Marine Corps bans Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Wolf hybrids. Navy policies vary by installation. And many military housing offices have additional breed restrictions beyond this listing, causing more confusion. Purebred registrations have no scientific method to verify breed information. Shelters adopting animals to troops are left to guess the lineage of a mixed-breed animal, a subjective opinion at best.
• The U.S. Army’s veterinarian community determined breed bans are written in the absence of professional veterinarian or animal behavior advice. In a memorandum distributed Army-wide on February 3, 2012, Col. Bob Walters, director of the Army’s Veterinarian Service Activity, stated there is no scientific method to determine a breed and that breed bans are unlikely to protect installation residents. The letter recommends generic, non-breed, specific dangerous dog regulations with emphasis on identification of dangerous and chronically irresponsible owners. Our community must have measurable, objective criteria for determining dangerous dogs that are based on the dog’s behavior and actions.
• No evidence exists that breed-specific policies make communities safer for people or companion animals. Prince George’s County, MD, spends more than $250,000 annually to enforce its ban on Pit Bulls. In 2003, a study conducted by the county on the ban’s effectiveness noted that “public safety is not improved as a result of [the ban],” and that “there is no transgression committed by owner or animal that is not covered by another, non-breed specific portion of the Animal Control Code (i.e., vicious animal, nuisance animal, leash laws).”
• A Center for Disease Control study determined that factors beyond an animal’s breed might impact a dog’s tendency towards aggression, including chaining/tethering, lack of neutering or abuse. The study found that unneutered males were involved in more than 70 percent of dog bite cases and these animals chained or tethered were more than twice as likely to bite as an unrestrained animal. The vast majority of dog bites were from animals maintained for guarding; protection or victims of abuse or irresponsible pet owners.
• The underlying issue behind breed bans is irresponsible dog ownership, aggressive training and abuse. Instead, these destructive bans punish responsible dog owners who have well-trained dogs of the banned breed. They further punish banned-breed dogs, which have become popular for use in dog fighting and other criminal behavior largely because there is the perception that the public does not care about the fate of these animals.
• Effective solutions have remarkable results. Calgary, Alberta enacted a breed-neutral Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw in 2006. The program required license and permanent identification for pets and education on spay/ neuter, training socialization, proper diet and medical care. By educating its citizens and applying enforcement when needed, Calgary achieved a combined record of compassion for animals and safety for human citizens without equal anywhere in the world. In 2009, 86 percent of the dogs handled by Animal Services were returned to their owners, with fewer than five percent euthanized. (National Canine Research Council)
1) A Department of Defense policy letter standardizing pet policies.
2) Access to pet resources at family service centers and base housing.
3) Pet education at PCS/deployment/indoctrination briefings.
4) Strict enforcement of dangerous dog policies, including mandatory microchipping for pets in military housing.
The education piece is vital. To keep families safe, pet owners MUST understand their individual dogs behavior, regardless of breed and be held accountable for the dog’s actions.
Our Congressmen tried to stop military breed bans. As we told you about last February, Congressman Walter Jones (NC-3) and Tom Rooney (FL-16) asked the Secretary of the Army to review these bans. The Army replied to the letter stating that the bans are consistant from duty station to duty station (which we found they are not) and that the decision rests with housing and not the military. The housing insurance industry could partner with the military and work together on educational solutions. We’ve written our legislators too, with the hopes that different strategies can help us get this needed change.
What can you do to help? You can contact your Senator or Representative and ask for a standardized military pet policy. You can sign an upcoming petition for launch by Dogs on Deployment. You can contact organizations like The American Medical Veterinarian Association (AMVA), The American Kennel Club, The Humane Society of the United States, Best Friends Animal Society and The American Society for the Prevention Cruelty for Animals, Animal Legal Defense Fund and ask if they’d either take this on, or find out how they’re helping. The AMVA has outlined a community-based approach for preventing dog bites, far more effective and progessive than unscientific breed bans.
This is a long, uphill battle needing buy-in from multiple decision-makers, including housing insurance companies. Maybe solving this issue lies in changing the way dog bites are reported in the United States. This is an area we’ll be learning more about in the months to come.
Our pets mean the world to us military pet families. They bring us endless joy and are more than just pets; they’re four-legged family members. As we’ve seen in Japan, military families love their pets and don’t want them left behind. A policy that separates the family unit and destroys the human-animal bond must end. We’re confident there are better alternatives and hope our leaders will pursue them.
UPDATE! (5/24): Best Friends Animal Society has asked their supporters to email President Obama and Congress to end military breed bans. Please click here to write the White House and here to write your senator and representative. And please consider sharing through email, Facebook or Twitter so others can do the same. Thanks!