Watchdog barks at feds to boost health standards for working dogs

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The Government Accountability Office This week he warned federal agencies that they need better standards to ensure the health and well-being of the more than 5,100 working dogs serving the government.

The Government Accountability Office is known as a congressional observer that helps lawmakers oversee the operation of federal programs. In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office said departments and agencies across the government need to take better care of animals Assist officials in detecting explosives and narcoticsFind missing persons and assist in search and rescue efforts.

The report said standards aimed at preventing abuse and neglect of these dogs were missing in several sections, as were standards for giving them adequate breaks during the day.

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US Border Patrol agents use a dog to check for drugs at a checkpoint outside Laredo, Texas. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

“[A]Half of the federally administered programs do not address abuse, neglect or rest requirements and duration of work time while working in their policies,” the Government Accountability Office said. Likewise, about half of the programs run by contractors do not address abuse and neglect or how decisions to retire working dogs or euthanasia are dealt with in contract-related documents.”

The Ministry of the Interior and Security, With nearly 3,000 working dogs, it is by far the largest user of animals used to detect drugs and explosives. But many programs under the Department of Homeland Security, including some run by US Customs and Border Protection, do not have standards in place to prevent abuse and neglect of their dogs.

The Department of Defense is the second largest employer of working dogs with a population of nearly 1,800, but the Government Accountability Office found that the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command had no policies in place regarding abuse and neglect.

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Bomb-sniffing dog Corporal Ace searches for explosives near a US Marine during a patrol in Afghanistan, Jan. 26, 2010.

Bomb-sniffing dog Corporal Ace searches for explosives near a US Marine during a patrol in Afghanistan, Jan. 26, 2010.
(AFP/Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images)

More than half of the federal programs that use dogs do not have policies in place regarding convenience and length of service. The Air Force, Navy, and Special Operations Command were among the service branches within the Department of Defense that did not implement these policies.

Under DHS, the Secret Service, FEMA, and parts of Customs and Border Protection do not have policies in place regarding comfort and length of service.

The Government Accountability Office has developed 18 standards that must be in place to ensure healthy and safe work environments for dogs used by the federal government, including standards related to food and water, medical care, grooming, sanitation, and exercise.

Every federal agency that uses dogs has standards in place for food and water with the exception of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Law Enforcement Office.

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spc army.  David Sheriff of the 25th Infantry Division plays with Dagmar, a military working dog, at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, May 29, 2020 (US Army/Cover Images)

spc army. David Sheriff of the 25th Infantry Division plays with Dagmar, a military working dog, at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, May 29, 2020 (US Army/Cover Images)

The report is the result of more than two years of work by the Government Accountability Office and led to a broad recommendation that every agency that uses dogs adopt standards in all 18 areas identified by the report. The investigation ended in February 2022, and several agencies have since said they would adopt these standards or had already taken steps in that direction.

The Government Accountability Office also recommended that State Department officials there direct to ensure these standards remain in place when loaning working dogs to foreign governments and organizations, such as Embassy Security.

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The report came on the heels of a handful of cases over the past decade that suggested working conditions for dogs needed improvement. In 2019, for example, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General reported “serious concerns about animal care for working dogs” used in counterterrorism efforts.

The inspector general’s office said that “the inspector general found that dogs provided to at least one foreign government did not receive appropriate medical care and, in some cases, the dogs were found to be dangerously underweight.” “The inspector general also reported that at least one dog died from heat stroke.”

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