The State Department sends Belgian Malinois dogs to foreign governments to detective explosives.

The State Department sends Belgian Malinois dogs to foreign governments to detective explosives. Eudyptula/Shutterstock.com

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Watchdog: State Department Needs to Stop Letting Antiterrorism Dogs Die in Jordan

Canines were "dying due to various medical conditions, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions," according to a complaint received by the inspector general.

The State Department is not providing adequate care to the working dogs it provides to partner countries in the fight against terrorism and, as a result, dogs are dying of preventable diseases, according to a report by the department's watchdog.

The review was triggered when the department's Office of Inspector General received a hotline complaint that the antiterrorism program dogs sent to Jordan—by far the largest recipient of explosive detection dogs—were "were dying due to various medical conditions, lack of veterinary care, and poor working conditions." 

For years, State acquired dogs from a canine training program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, but in 2016, the department established its own training program known as the Canine Validation Center. State contracted with an outside firm to provide support personnel and resources to operate and manage the program, and State assumed responsibility for conducting health and welfare checks on the dogs previously provided by ATF. State's program is structured so that CVC staff train foreign handlers in the United States and then visit the dogs and handlers in the handlers' home countries two weeks after they complete the 30-day training program to conduct health and welfare assessments.

As of late 2018, the department had deployed over 100 dogs to six countries through the CVC program, 61 of which were sent to Jordan. Approximately 70 dogs remained active in seven nations from the ATF program, of which 28 were in Jordan. State did not provide detailed information on any dogs outside of Jordan.

The OIG's investigation found that the dogs sent to Jordan were underfed and that "at least 10" dogs died due to mistreatment from 2008-2016. Dogs at the Jordanian Police Headquarters were overwhelmingly past their working years, CVC staff found during an April 2016 visit:

Several canines were observed to have hip dysplasia and obvious arthritis, and have lost the will to work. The majority of the K9 Teams observed were well beyond their working years. They have a minimum of twenty (20) canines that need to be retired and replaced immediately.

Department policy is to retire dogs at the end of their "workable" years and adopt them out to live out their remaining years with new owners.

Additionally, canine parvovirus, which is spread through fecal contact, was "rampant," during the 2016 visit. "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," CVC staff noted at the time. A parvo vaccine is widely used in the United States and is recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

CVC staff continued visiting the facilities and reported progress after the April 2016 assessment. They recommended that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Office of Antiterrorism Assistance provide further "training to the existing Jordanian veterinarians and have U.S. veterinarians conduct assistance visits."

Dr. Karen Iovino, a veterinarian who worked for the contractor that helped train the dogs, told NBC4 in Washington in February that she lodged a complaint with the IG because of what she saw in Jordan and “If we're going to gift a dog to these countries, we've gotta be sure they're taken care of.”

According to the IG report, State Department mentors visited the facility and performed an inventory of ATF-trained dogs in 2017 and "noted that the remaining canines appeared in good health." However, a 2018 visit showed that many of the dogs were malnourished and afflicted with parasites, including engorged ticks. OIG noted that working security dogs require a much more robust diet than companion pet dogs because “their work demands much higher levels of energy and larger quantities of essential nutrients,” according to military standards. The Army Field Manual, for example, requires weighing the canines monthly to monitor possible illness. There is no evidence that the dogs in Jordan received such care.

Zoe is shown prior to her deployment to Jordan. (OIG)

The OIG report highlighted three mistreated or undertreated Belgian Malinois sent to Jordan between October 2016 and July 2017. Zoe, a two-year-old female died of heat stroke seven months after she arrived in Jordan in October 2016. According to investigators, her death was "at least partly due to the canine being reassigned to a handler who had not been trained at CVC." The report noted the staff did not employ accepted standard levels of care for working military dogs in such situations. 

A second dog, Mencey, was a 3-year-old male Belgian Malinois sent to Jordan in July 2017. In February 2018, Mencey had been diagnosed with a preventable tick-borne disease and was sent back to the United States, where he was diagnosed with a second vector-borne disease that caused renal failure. According to the report, dogs housed in kennels such as those in the Jordanian facility are at a higher risk for developing tick-transmitted illnesses and are more likely to die of them from a lack of care. CVC euthanized Mencey in March 2018. 

Mencey is shown after being flown back from Jordan, before he was euthanized. (OIG)

Athena, the third dog highlighted in the report, arrived in Jordan in May 2017 and an April 2018 CVC exam showed that Athena was "severely emaciated and that her kennel was covered in dirt and feces." CVC veterinarians noted she had received "inadequate feeding." She was returned to the United States and ultimately made a full recovery after receiving proper care. According to OIG, "DS/ATA had two full-time mentors on the ground monitoring the dogs, yet Athena’s health went unnoticed until the CVC veterinary team raised concerns."

Athena appears severely emaciated after less than 1 year in Jordan. (OIG)

The three dogs were among the dozens sent to Jordan that became ill from preventable conditions. According to the IG, the Jordanian's own working dogs were not provided with proper care, handlers were not performing daily, routine hands-on physical assessments of their dogs, and that staff were just throwing food on the floor instead of giving the dogs kibble in bowls, as recommended. The Jordanian staff was not aware that the State Department was not responsible for the care of all dogs in the Jordanian Royal Guard's employ, the IG found, and were “upset” upon learning that State would not be providing preventative medications and care. Although Jordanian officials "are 'interested' in providing their canines the best care, the commanders and veterinary staff are not financially committed to providing or enforcing a dedicated, long-term preventative program," the IG found.

Despite little progress in Jordan's ability to care for explosive detection canines since 2016, State continued to provide 66 additional dogs to Jordan. The IG found  the department doesn't have a plan to get the program in Jordan program to a level of "self-sustainment" and that State has "conducted minimal planning" to ensure that the dogs sent to Jordan are cared for. Moreover, the dogs' poor health essentially guarantees that the canine program will not perform as expected, the IG said. 

The IG recommended that State establish written plans to address canine safety; develop a standard plan for dog retirement and adoption; coordinate with partner nations on welfare checks; and develop a timeline for implementing a  self-sustained canine program in Jordan. The IG also recommended that State stop providing dogs to Jordan, but department officials said plans were already underway to send more dogs to the country, but that officials were developing plans to ensure better care for the dogs.

Dogs have long been seen as one of the best methods for explosive detection and are used extensively by local police department and the Homeland Security Department.