A federal investigation has revealed that the bomb-sniffing dogs sent from the United States to its Middle Eastern ally Jordan are falling ill and dying due to poor treatment and negligence.
Inspectors at the State Department conducted a year-long evaluation that revealed that a minimum of 10 such dogs died between 2008 and 2016 in Jordan from medical problems. Also, the surviving ones seem malnourished and are suffering from “unhealthy conditions” like inadequate kennels, poor sanitation, lack of care services, and overwork.
The report that was published last week enclosed photos which show emaciated dogs with ribs protruding from their sides and overgrown nails. Also, their ears appear to be infested with ticks so engorged they have likely been feasting on the dogs for days. Some facilities didn’t have any dog and the handlers just fed the dogs by throwing food on the floor.
For over 20 years, the US has been sending specially trained and bomb-sniffing dogs to partner nations under an anti-terrorism assistance program. Despite investing “millions of dollars” in training and dispatching the dogs, the report which was launched after a hotline complaint about the dogs’ treatment, said the State Department officials failed to ensure their health and welfare.
The report suggests that the State Department’s loose regulation and lack of concrete policies were a big factor in the dogs’ mistreatment. The State Department couldn’t offer investigators detailed information for the dogs in other partner countries other than Jordan, and in many cases, there aren’t any written agreements with the countries outlining how to care for the dogs.
This negligence has led to persistent health problems in dogs sent to Jordan, the largest recipient in the program with 61 active bomb-sniffer dogs. Other countries covered in the program are Thailand, Morocco, Indonesia, and Bahrain.
A Jordanian official told CNN that an investigation by “external assessors” into the dogs’ welfare was underway, and said, “Jordan takes the welfare of its security working dogs very seriously”.
The report reveals that the first dog to perish in Jordan was Zoe, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois who died from heatstroke in 2017. The report called it a “terrible death” that was due to improper care rather than an accident.
Severely emaciated 2-year-old Athena, who was ultimately sent back to the US to recover in 2018, provided a real glimpse into the dogs’ filthy living conditions with photos showing dirt and feces all over her kennel floor, and an empty water bowl.
Even more critical is that concerns about their welfare were raised as early as April 2016, when a US canine training staff visited Jordan for a welfare check. That report exposed the high death rate, lack of medical care, insufficient facilities, and that the dogs had “lost the will to work.”
Despite the 2016 report’s findings and recommendations, even more, dogs were later sent to Jordan, and the program continued to be funded. In spite of new measures such as the deployment of full-time US mentors to monitor the dogs in Jordan, the problems persisted as two such mentors were present at the time of Athena’s declining health but they failed to either notice or intervene.
The investigation report submits five recommendations like more frequent welfare checks and the formation of a written agreement with partner nations. The State Department has completely agreed to four of the recommendations but has left out the suggestion to stop sending dogs to Jordan until a sustainability plan was put in place.
Since the report became public, US officials have demanded long-overdue action and Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, even sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last Friday, requesting more information and a briefing on the issue.
Grassley wrote, “It is important for Congress to know whether the (program) is operating effectively and efficiently and whether animals involved in the program are being treated according to the humane and ethical standards that the American people undoubtedly expect”.