Veteran-Run Charity Ensures Military K9s Get The Happy Retirement They Deserve

On a cool, clear day at Washington D.C.’s Navy Memorial Plaza, veterans, supporters, and military working dog handlers from all branches of service gathered to pay tribute to some of America’s most unsung heroes. Dogs have been vital military service members since World War II but rarely receive the recognition they deserve.

The United States War Dog Association (USWDA) is devoted to changing that. This year, they held the first-ever K9 Veterans Day celebration to honor the skills, service, and sacrifice of military K-9s as well as their handlers, trainers, support staff, and families. 

K9 handlers past and present stand alongside the statue of The Lone Sailor in Navy Memorial Plaza, Washington, D.C.

K9 Veterans Day

After a beautiful rendition of The National Anthem by United States Secret Service K-9 Handler Beth Hartman and a heartfelt blessing from retired Sergeant Al Brenner of the United States Marine Corps, USWDA president Chris Willingham took the podium. Willingham is a retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant who dedicated the majority of his 20-year career to the Military Working Dog (MWD) Program.  

“K9 Veterans Day is here to celebrate the beginning of the K9 Corps, which was March 13, 1942,” Willingham began. “It started with ‘Dogs for Defense,’ who would train and procure the dogs for military service. From that point on, they (military K9s) have proven to be a force multiplier in every climb and place. Whether it’s the island-hopping campaigns of World War II, the frozen tundras of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, or the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, if there are troops on the ground, the K9 has a mission.”

Retired military working dog Ria attended the USWDA K9 Veterans Day celebration alongside Krystal from the Ddamien Project, which gives difficult to adopt MWDs like Ria a loving place to retire.

During his speech, Willingham praised the incredible adaptability of military working dogs. The five dog handlers who established USWDA served in Vietnam. During that conflict, K9s were mainly used for scouting missions, sentry duty, mine and tunnel detection, and water patrols. While Willingham served in the Middle East, dogs of war became essential for sniffing out improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that might otherwise take out entire squads.

The US military developed a task force known as the Joint IED Defeat Organization to tackle this threat. Still, as Willingham proudly pointed out, despite “six years and $19 billion, they could not beat the capabilities of a well-trained dog team.”

Equally valuable to the life-saving services they provide, K9s offer unconditional love and loyalty. The bond formed from one end of the leash to the other lasts well beyond the days of war.

MWD awaits his next command

MWDs Are Much More Than Just “Equipment”

Military working dogs are service members and receive a rank just like their handlers, but they are not recognized as soldiers by the Defense Department. Instead, they are considered equipment, just like weapons or tanks. Before the passage of Robby’s Law in 2000, MWDs were often euthanized or left behind on the battlefield.

Now, dogs “suitable for adoption” must be made available for placement after their service. While 90% of retired MWDs find forever homes with their handlers, challenges still arise. It can be difficult and expensive to transport dogs home from overseas, and canine veterans face many of the same physical and emotional casualties of war, including arthritis and PTSD.

Without a pension or medical insurance, these costs fall to the handler or adopter. This is why USWDA’s mission is so important.

The US War Dogs Association Supports Military Working Dogs & Their Handlers

USWDA works to ensure that no dog is left behind. Whether providing essential equipment and care packages to dog teams overseas or transporting veteran war dogs back to the U.S. after their service, they see that military K9s get the treatment, respect, and recognition they have so valiantly earned.

Help USWDA Make a Difference in the Lives of Retired MWDs 

Retired working dogs suffering from illnesses and the effects of past injuries are eligible for a free prescription drug program and receive help with their veterinary bills. They are honored for their service with awards, such as the PDSA Dickin Medal, which was presented to US Marine Corps Special Operations Command Canine Bass at the D.C. ceremony. And they are given one final salute thanks to USWDA’s Rainbow Bridge Assistance Program.

Staff Sergeant Alex Schnell presents his MWD, Bass, with the PDSA Dickin medal in honor of his six years of brave military service.

USWDA also ensures that retired working dogs find loving homes in which to spend their retirement, whether it’s with their military handlers or new adoptive families.

“America’s military working dogs give their best years to ensure our freedom, US War Dogs is here to give these heroic K-9s the freedom to enjoy their well-deserved retirement.” –

How We Can Help

Thanks to purchases made by iHeartDogs and Hero Company customers, we were able to make a $2,500 donation to the US War Dogs Association to help them continue their mission. Like the Hero Company, USWDA also helps fund service dogs for Veterans with disabling medical conditions.

You, too, can support USWDA as they continue to assist military working dogs throughout their lifetime and during their well-earned retirement. 

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