Eight to 10 years is a full military career for dogs used by the Armed Services, but what happens when those dogs are retired?
Ron Aiello, president of the U.S. War Dogs Association, said about 2,500 canines are active war dogs, with about 700 of those serving in the Middle East. Aiello said that upon retirement, some dogs are adopted by law enforcement agencies and others are distributed to former handlers.
It is sometimes possible for civilians to adopt dogs that are considered not too aggressive by contacting the military, and Aiello's organization is trying to tie up loose ends that could leave some dogs euthanized.
Pauline residents Ron and Antoinette Bishop couldn't stand to think of that last option, and started the National K9 Enforcement Rescue Organization (NERO), a nonprofit, in 2005. The couple want to build Camp NERO, which Ron likes to think of as an “assisted living home for war dogs” on their 15 acres.
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“They are considered disposable material by the higher-up people that don't know what these dogs do,” Antoinette Bishop said.
Last month, the Bishops organized a fundraiser. Antoinette Bishop said several area companies have donated money to help start the event that she hopes becomes an annual tradition.
On the job, the dogs searched for bombs and received excellent care for their effort.
“They live like kings over there,” Antoinette Bishop said. “The kennel master cannot do enough for those dogs, and the medical treatment they are given is great.”
Ron Bishop, who signed up for the Navy Reserves after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, brought Ronnie back from Bahrain and experienced favorable treatment along the way.
The two had a layover in Spain and another one in Maine in March 2007 and received private quarters during the delays.
After being in the 111-degree heat of the Persian Gulf, Ronnie relished the minus-11 degree cold and snow of Maine. Ronnie was already named before he met up with Ron Bishop, but the two have bonded so well that Ron calls Ronnie “Junior.”
The Bishops care for 18 dogs, including 10 they've adopted through NERO, named for a K9 who died from cancer in March 2005. They placed a former Spartanburg Public Safety Department K9 with a home in Texas.
Aiello said that many of the war dogs used in Vietnam were too aggressive for civilian adoption, but strides have been made with agencies that retrain the dogs. He said adoption of military dogs was established in November 2000, and the government routes most war dogs in America to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Antoinette Bishop said the more aged the dog, the less likely it is to be adopted by a law enforcement agency. She said 281 were adopted, 74 were waiting to be adopted and 116 were euthanized in 2006.
Some former handlers are interested in adopting a dog but are still on tours of duty. NERO is able to help that process by caring for the dog until the owner returns.
Antoinette Bishop said Dix will be shipped to San Diego in a few months once the handler returns. “It's going to be hard to let him go,” she said, “but it's best for everyone, and we have to keep that in mind.”