The War Dog Who Inspired Change For Canine Soldiers

In November 2015, President Barack Obama signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which included language to allow military working dogs to return to the United States and live as pets with their service-member handlers.

Under this bill, if the dog is retired overseas, the military will pay for transportation of the dog to the United States. The act also stipulates that “if the handler is killed in action or dies of wounds received in action, the military working dog shall be made available for adoption only by a parent, child, spouse, or sibling of the deceased handler.’’ (Read about a Marine’s mother who brought home the dog who was beside her son when he was killed in action here.)

One of the legislators to sponsor the bill was Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey), who we sat down with to find out what inspired him to take action on this issue—as it turns out, it all goes back to one very special dog and Marine.

What motivated you to sponsor this bill?

"I’ve always loved dogs, of course, but this whole situation started about 10 years when my colleagues and I heard about the story of a Mississippi Marine named Dustin Lee and his war dog, Lex. While he was deployed, everything Dustin sent home to his parents had a picture of him and Lex. One fateful day they came under attack, and Dustin was mortally wounded. Lex was injured with heavy shrapnel as well. The parents were devastated and made a request to the Marine Corps to keep Lex. The dog was the only connection to their only son. Because Lex was only 5 or 6 years old, the Marine Corps denied the request because they wanted to rehabilitate him and put him back to work. We contacted the Marine Corps and put some pressure on them, and they decided to relent. I kept in touch with the parents, and Lex lived there until he passed away in 2012.

"What upset me was that the Marine Corps made it clear to us that this was a one-and-done deal. That started me on the mission to get language inserted into law that military dogs were able to be taken in by families or handlers."

So this has been 10 years in the making?

"Yes, we had gotten within the one-inch line of it being signed into law before, but this year the moon and the suns were aligned. We had strong bipartisan support including Claire McCaskill (D-MIssouri) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). The provision is now the law of the land.

"We wanted to make sure that dogs can live our their retirement in comfort. These animals have done so much for our country and are now getting the respect they deserve."

See Congressman LoBiondo speak more about this issue:





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