The U.S. government spends millions of dollars to train bomb-sniffing dogs essential to federal and local law enforcement capabilities but some are gifted to foreign countries that abuse them, often resulting in the spread of infection and premature death. Many of the American-trained canines are severely underweight, live in squalid conditions and suffer from untreated tick-borne disease because U.S. officials don’t fulfill their duty of assuring the dogs receive proper care. In one disturbing case, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois died of hyperthermia while working at the Syrian border. Another was found emaciated in a Jordanian kennel covered in feces and an empty water bowl.
It is a heartbreaking story involving the taxpayer-funded Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP), which also provides specially trained dogs to foreign nations—mostly Arabic—under an antiterrorism assistance project operated by the State Department. The goal is to enhance the ability of their law enforcement agencies to deter and counter terrorism. The State Department doesn’t bother following up to assure that the recipient nations are keeping their end of the agreement to adequately care for the precious animals. The sordid details resulting from the government’s negligence are only public because the State Department Inspector General received an anonymous complain on its hotline. The watchdog launched an investigation and published the findings in a lengthy report that includes agonizing pictures of the victims in the custody of their foreign handlers. “The Department has expended millions of dollars in antiterrorism assistance funds for the EDCP, but it does not ensure the health and welfare of the dogs after deployment,” the audit states. “This threatens the dogs’ ability to properly perform detection work and also creates risks to their well-being.”
There are currently 170 Explosive Detection Canines (EDCs) working in 13 partner nations under the antiterrorism program. All of the bomb-sniffing dogs were trained by the U.S. government, most of them at a facility in Winchester, Virginia known as the Canine Validation Center (CVC) managed by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security Office of Overseas Protective Operations (DS/OPO). Others were trained at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) National Canine Division (NCD). The ATF spends an average of $26,000 to train a canine in traditional explosives detection. Besides the cost of training the dogs, the State Department also spends an additional $500,000 annually to provide recipient countries with “mentors” who have expertise working with dogs.
Most of the bomb-sniffing dogs are in Jordan, the audit’s primary focus. Others are in Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Indonesia and Bahrain. Once a country is approved to receive a trained canine, the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (DS/ATA) is supposed to perform a “country canine assessment” to determine the partner nation’s abilities to operate the program. Jordan is by far the largest recipient of American-trained EDC’s, according to the report, with 61 active CVC-trained canines. Jordanian officials have also participated in six American-funded training courses. The problem is that the State Department doesn’t have mechanisms in place to ensure effective management of the health and welfare of the canines in the EDC program, investigators found. “Aside from the humanitarian need to treat these animals properly, basic standards of health and welfare are critical to ensuring that EDCs can perform these important functions,” the report states. “However, the Department does not sufficiently monitor the EDCs it provides, and, despite repeated requests by OIG in the course of its fieldwork, the Department did not produce any written policies, procedures, or written standards of care until after a draft of the report was provided.”
As a result, several dogs have died prematurely, many suffer from serious diseases, live in unsanitary kennels and are overworked or malnourished. In their report investigators “documented disturbing conditions in the canine unit in Jordan.” Specifically, CVC staff found a facility at police headquarters to be below standard. “The kennels are not properly maintained to inhibit the spread [of] K9 diseases,” the report says. “Parvo is rampant within the facility and the main cause for the canine deaths to date. The Police are losing canines frequently to the disease and do not have the medical care required to treat it, or even maintain healthy canines. The training observed was well below the needed methods to maintain a minimal standard.” At another Jordanian facility the dogs were severely overworked and required to search large numbers of vehicles without proper shelter, sanitation and care. Several dogs died from heat exhaustion in a year.