Pet Dogs Bring Troops Sense of Home

Some American troops in Iraq are violating the rule against having pets in theater, with the full knowledge of their commanders. – For troops, home is a wet nose (USAT, May 30, 7D)

A pair of Navy corpsmen went on a scavenging mission in a trash dump outside Camp Gannon here at the edge of town in March. Their mission: Bring back a pet dog for the Marines. Michael Ledbetter, 23, of Ballinger, Texas, and Chad Martin, 25, of Fort Worth plucked three mongrel pups from their sour-smelling bed, immunized them with veterinarian supplies they discovered in camp, gave them baths and turned them over to the men.

That’s against military rules, strictly interpreted. U.S. troops in Iraq aren’t allowed to have pets. And the wild dogs of the desert, which feed on the troops’ garbage, are viewed as menaces, aggressive to men on patrol and often bearing diseases. A pack of 10 wild dogs lives near Camp Gannon, and about 20 live near the base at nearby Qaim. They sneak up like insurgents.

At larger military bases than this one, private contractors set steel traps for the dogs, and the animals are euthanized. Troops who try to adopt them can be punished. But here at Camp Gannon, where mortar and rocket fire are daily occurrences, where the men live isolated from the Iraqi townsfolk and even from regular military supplies — which must be convoyed across the desert under heavy security — the officers in charge convened an informal powwow, and the pups’ adoption was approved.

“They’re unofficial pets, that’s for sure, but everybody knows about them,†says camp physician Lt. Scott Wichman of Rochester, Minn., who attended the confab that decided the dogs’ fate. He says the pups are morale boosters. “It gives them a sense of home and something to take care of,†he says. “They truly are community dogs.†Says Ledbetter, the Navy corpsman: “The Internet and phones are fine, but it’s nice to have a dog running around. It reminds you of home.â€

In April, Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking the Pentagon to stop the euthanasia of troops’ pets and to drop its prohibition against care of animals in the war zone. He also asked the Pentagon to authorize the troops to ship home healthy animals. Responding to what he said were “numerous letters of complaint†from troops and their families about the Pentagon’s hard line, he also criticized the military’s punishment of pet owners under its guidelines for conduct. “The bond between humans and animals does not compromise character or morale,†he wrote. “Rather, it enhances them.â€

This strikes me as a rule worth changing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    At first blush, I might agree — but the assurances of a Humane Society head that changing the rule won’t have an impact on mission capability, doesn’t strike me as all the strong.