When Cpl. Matt Foster left Afghanistan after his tour of duty in 2013, he didn’t know whether he would ever see his K-9 partner again. For nine months, Foster and Sgt. Mick, a black Labrador retriever, lived and worked together keeping the military compound at Camp Leatherneck and the surrounding area in Helmand Province safe from explosive attack.
Foster’s interest in becoming a military dog handler in the Marine Corps came from a high school friend who served and ultimately lost his life in Afghanistan. “I’d always loved dogs and this seemed like a good fit for me,” he said. “Only a certain number of dogs are assigned to a unit, so I was fortunate to be selected.”
After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, Foster did not give up in his quest to adopt Mick. The 7-year-old Lab had been discharged for medical reasons and Foster said he lost count of the number of adoption forms he sent attempting to be reunited with his dog.
“It is very difficult for a Marine infantry K-9 handler to keep his dog when he returns from active duty overseas,” Foster recalled. “Once back in California, the dogs go on a truck to North Carolina to be redeployed, and generally we never see them again.”
Ultimately, Foster’s quest to reconnect with Mick was successful, and they are together again living in Colorado. “After what you go through with your dog in the service and then adopt them afterward, you wouldn’t want to say goodbye to your partner because you couldn’t afford to take care of him,” said Foster
Once military and police dogs retire, with no guaranteed pension for their medical care, the burden and cost of care often fall solely on their caregivers. Now an advocate for military dog adoption, Foster has joined The Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve and the RIMADYL K-9 Courage program to help other retired military dogs and handlers.
The RIMADYL K-9 Courage Program is a charitable healthcare donation program that, together with The Sage Foundation and National Police Dog Foundation, provides financial and in-kind product donations of $150,000 annually to support the veterinary needs for up to 500 retired police and military K-9s.
Since the Revolutionary War, the U.S. military has been using working dogs as messengers, sentries, scouts and mine detectors.
An estimated 1,775 military dogs are actively working to protect military personnel. Each dog saves as many as 150-200 servicemen and women by detecting explosives and hidden weapons caches.
In an average year, 300-400 dogs retire, but it’s not required that a military dog serving overseas be returned to the United States at retirement. Legislation is pending in Congress to mandate their return for U.S. adoption.
Today, law enforcement dogs are used at the local, county, state and federal levels, and are considered full-fledged police officers. Unlike their human counterparts, however, these officers do not receive a pension.