About military working dog adoptions

MWD in Iraq

Photo credit: U.S. Army

Our recent post about Rocky, a retired, disabled military working dog who was saved by our appeal, exposed a lot of misconceptions about the fate of military working dogs once they’re retired from service. Most of these animals are eligible for adoption and are placed into appropriate and loving homes.

Until recently, it was legal and common practice to abandon or put down military working dogs, known as MWDs, at the end of their useful service. Historically viewed as “surplus equipment,” they weren’t seen as having value beyond the military purpose for which they were trained. That mindset has changed dramatically, due in no small part to the public’s growing awareness of how these animals were treated after years of dutiful service. But it was one military war dog in particular – a dog named Robby – whose own fate changed that of other MWDs to come. Robby’s Law (H.R.5314) was signed by President Bill Clinton in November 2000 and required that all MWDs suitable for adoption be available for placement after their service. Unfortunately it was too late to save Robby, whose former handler fought valiantly to adopt him, to no avail.

Adopting a military working dog

It’s important to realize that these animals are unlike those you might have in your home or find in your local shelter. Not every retired MWD makes a great addition to the family. They’re highly trained – often for lethal purposes – and traits that are desirable in a military canine might make them unsuitable as a family pet. While fiercely loyal, they are often independent-minded and have different triggers, or trained responses, to various verbal or physical commands. In many cases, these dogs are not recommended for families with small children or other pets; some are deemed unsuitable for adoption for a variety of reasons, including extreme aggression.

Because of their unique temperaments and training, the military does not surrender these animals to shelters, rescues or sanctuaries for placement. All military working dog adoptions are handled through Joint Base San Antonio at Lackland, home of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Adoption Program. Through a careful process of evaluation and selection, experienced military personnel place an estimated 300 “excessed” MWDs each year.

If a dog is still serviceable upon its disposition – or official retirement – from the military, adoption priority is given to civilian law enforcement. For dogs wo are no longer able to serve, handlers get priority and then the general public. 

Learn more

More information about MWDs and MWD adoption:

So what happened to Rocky?

Many people were outraged at the prospect that Rocky would be put down: a 9-1/2 year old, disabled retired MWD and three tour Iraq war veteran. Most thought it callous that the military would simply end  his life after he had given his in service, but that’s simply not the case.

MWD Ruby

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Like many working canines, during his last few years of service Rocky had many different handlers. While the vast majority of war dogs are adopted by their handlers – more than 90% – Rocky no longer had a steady handler, no special bond with any one person. And while he was eligible to be adopted by other military personnel that might have wanted him, the unique challenges of his disability meant that Rocky couldn’t just go to any home – he needed someone who had ample time and patience to care for him. Since no suitable adopter was found and the kennels on base were ill equipped to address his specific disabilities, the military felt it had no choice but to slate him for euthanasia.

By chance, Pets for Patriots was contacted by a concerned animal lover. After verifying the story and basic facts, we posted Rocky’s plight and – well, the rest is history. A flood of applicants hit Lackland and Rocky was saved. We’re grateful that the veterinary team at Camp Pendleton shared Rocky’s story and gave us the opportunity to change  his fate for the better.

Other four-legged heroes in need 

We were in awe of the rapid and dramatic response to Rocky’s story, and are honored to have played a leading role in ensuring that he’ll live out his life in a loving home. And on the one hand while Rocky’s story was unique and exceptional, in other ways it’s a story we know all too well: an unwanted animal faces near-certain death if not adopted.

At Pets for Patriots, we champion these everyday heroes: the millions of last-chance dogs and cats that fill shelters, rescues, SPCAs and humane societies around the country, and that are killed to the tune of an estimated four million each year. That is simply unacceptable.

To help right this wrong, we work with our adoption partners to connect those animals most at risk of death with service and veteran members of the U.S. military. To help make these adoptions lasting and affordable, members of our program are given access to ongoing, discounted medical care through a network of veterinary partners, and we provide direct financial support on an annual basis towards the purchase of pet food and other basics. 

If you were one of the many individuals who wanted to open your heart and home to Rocky, please adopt a last-chance pet today. If you were one of the hundreds of people who were ready to contribute to Rocky’s care or transport: thank you. He’s set now, but we need your help: for the countless dogs and cats who will never become an internet sensation or a household name. Animals like Barley: a sweet, loving dog who has lived in a shelter for more than four years. While he’s enjoying a temporary respite in a foster home – with a Hall of Fame rocker, no less – Barley is just waiting to be someone’s hero. Maybe it will be you.



  1. Floyd Scoggins says:

    I am a 100% service connected disabled vet. And I want to adopt a dog. I live on a ranch in wynnewood Oklahoma ,I am 63 yr old kids are all grown, I am willing to come to you and stay as long as it takes to find the right dog ,that will except me ,and is willing to bond with me . I have owned trained attack/ guard dogs before. I had two dobermans,two German shepards , and a red healer over the years,thay have all passed away. My wife has a Yorkey that belonged to my late mother. Yes I know and understand the high levale of responsibility that comes with haveing a well trained service dog and I would be willing and honored to take on that responsibility . You may call me at 405 514 4324 anytime thank you Floyd scoggins retired DAV us army 1972 to 1993

    • Floyd, we currently don’t have a program near you and in any case Pets for Patriots does not provide service dogs. We focus exclusively on companion dogs and cats for adoption by service and veteran members of the U.S. military.

      • Pets for Patriots,
        I see no where in Floyd’s message where he states he wants or needs a service dog. I do see that he’s had extensiveexperience in training and ownership of breeds that require time, knowledge of dogs, and commitment. I also see that he stated he would go to YOU and stay as long as necessary to find the right dog. It’s bothersome to me that your response was so dismissive when clearly there’s a perfect opportunity to create a perfect match between a human and canine veteran. Show this man the respect he deserves and contact him.

        Chalise F.

      • Christine Curry says:

        I agree with Chalise. Your response was very dismissive and poorly represents your mission and great cause. He clearly states that he is qualified to adopt a MWD or any other dog.
        I want to add that you also commented that “We focus exclusively on companion dogs and cats for adoption by service and veteran members of the U.S. military.” I repeat …”adoption by service and veteran members of the U.S. military” Floyd CLEARLY stated that he is a Disable American Veteran (DAV) U.S. ARMY 1972 to 1993.
        My husband and I both are military war veterans and I have just started looking into possibly adoptioning a MWD and after reading this post, I will see if I can find another avenue to approach this with.

      • Christine Curry says:

        Also, Do not confuse or discriminate 100% service connected disabled with being in a wheel chair. Do not confuse Floyd’s desire to want a dog with your mis-interpretation of his need for a dog. This is not necessarily the case.
        It just means that no matter what the financial circumstance are you will always recieve a disability check. As a veteran, that is how I took Floyds opening statement. He was just trying to convey that he has the means, knowlege and enviroment (grown kids) to care for an adopted dog.

    • To Floyd Scroggins:
      For information on how to adopt a retired military working dog, please visit the website http://www.militaryworkingdogadoptions.com. You will find instructions and the phone numbers of the kennel masters at the bases all across the country where the dogs are stationed. You can call them yourself, and ask to be put on their waiting lists. Write all of these calls in a notebook, each kennelmaster on a separate page. Then call them back once per month to stay in touch. Start with the bases closest to you and work outward, anywhere you would be willing to drive or fly to go pick up your dog. There is no charge to adopt a retired military working dog, but you have to pay for all the costs of getting and caring for the dog.

  2. RITA ADKINS says:

    I am a devoted GERMAN SHEPHERD owner……I saw this program on FOX news and am looking for a dog…..would so LOVE to give these 4 legged warriors a comfortable forever retirement home…..I am having problems with the application…it comes up on the screen but it will not let me fill it out…..I am an RN and can give a dog love and whatever medical needs he has,,,,THEY DESERVE IT!….I was very releaved to hear that they are NEVER killed…please give me some advice on filling out this app so I can get on the list….PLEASE:)

    • Just so you and others know, this is not the official website for adopting a MWD. If you wish to adopt an actual Military Working Dog, they have supplied the link to the 37th Training Wing at Joint Base San Antonio at Lackland above.
      There is a separate application and process you must go through for a MWD.
      While this is also a great, worth while adoption service, it is not for one of the many hero’s needing a forever home.

  3. Monica McLaughlin says:

    The article says that about 300 dogs are adopted out each year. How many are killed by the military each year — those not deemed suitable for adoption?

  4. D. Archer says:

    Yup, looks like the current link for adopting MWDs through Lackland is: http://www.37trw.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-120718-079.pdf

    • Dave Gontz says:

      I have just had the displeasure of reading an article on my local news paper’s website about MWD’s by the syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg. See the link below:
      I have never served but have been actively involved with dogs (showing/breeder) for the last thirty-four years so I believe I understand the bond between handler and dog. Words just fail me on Goldberg’s article and It is my sincere hope that someone will step up and educate him on H.R.5314 (Robby’s Law). He really should have done his homework.

  5. Vern Larson says:

    I forgot to say that since 1954 I have had a large size dog in my care, wiemarners. I use to hunt a lot but now cannot take the long bush walking. I would appreciate and answer and information. Vern

  6. Vern Larson says:

    I am 81 yrs old and lost my dog Nov. 2011. The yearning for a dog who has been trained would make it easier for me. We have a nice home and would be interested in what it all entails to adopt a dog that would probably not have too many years to go also.

    Thank you, Vern


  1. [...] the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who, in spite of being recently discharged and currently unemployed, adopted the military working dog (MWD) when he learned that he was going to be [...]

  2. [...] In the past, standard operating procedure was to euthanize due to concerns of PTSD or other financial/logistic issues. Then in November, 2000, President Clinton responded to the issue by establishing a law that permitted civilians to adopt these war vets. [...]

  3. […] to the nonprofit group Pets for Patriots, all military working dog adoptions are handled through the Department of Defense Military Working […]

  4. […] to the nonprofit group Pets for Patriots, all military working dog adoptions are handled through the Department of Defense Military Working […]

  5. […] to the nonprofit group Pets for Patriots, all military working dog adoptions are handled through the Department of Defense Military Working […]

  6. […] to the nonprofit group Pets for Patriots, all military working dog adoptions are handled through the Department of Defense Military Working […]

  7. […] to the nonprofit group Pets for Patriots, all military working dog adoptions are handled through the Department of Defense Military Working […]

  8. […] to the nonprofit group Pets for Patriots, all military working dog adoptions are handled through the Department of Defense Military Working […]

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