With the passage of H.R.4310, the "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013," by Congress (the Senate's version being S.3254), and the subsequent signing by President Obama on Jan. 2 , 2013, it seemed as though the long journey to reclassify military working dogs as "canine members of the Armed Forces" rather than "equipment" had finally come to a successful end.
Though the bills specifically introduced to change that classification, H.R.4103 - introduced by Congressman Walter Jones, representing North Carolina's 3rd congressional district - and S.2134 - introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal, representing Connecticut - had become bogged down in Congressional subcommittees early last year, there was saving grace in that the text of these bills had been merged into Section 361 of the original version of H.R.4310 in May 2012.
So pop the champagne, right?
Not quite so fast.
As a key element to S.3254's passage, the text providing reclassification was removed, leaving the final version of H.R.4310 passed by Congress, and signed by the President, to no longer contain the provision changing the status of the military working dogs.
That being said, military working dogs remain "equipment" in the eyes of our Congress and military.
But there's more blood to be shed from this wound. According to sources, who, due to their position have requested anonymity, it was actually at the insistence of Senator John McCain, a decorated veteran and war hero himself, that the reclassification language was removed from the bill. Despite numerous emails and phone calls placed over the course of a week and a half seeking a statement, clarification, or a simple explanation, the Senator's office and press secretary have refused to comment.
While the original bills introduced by Congressman Jones and Senator Blumenthal still sit in subcommittee, this most recent turn of events deal a significant setback to the efforts for reclassification. Yet, those supporting the cause fight on.
The deep roots to that effort can be traced back a full two years to when Lisa Phillips, a San Antonio, Texas native and former Army veterinary technician, was encouraged by her college professor to submit a paper she'd written on the unique struggles associated with the adoption of military working dogs to Congress. The writing had been prompted by her own experience, having gone through the process of adopting a retired military working dog she'd helped treat while still in the Air Force. Her composition was forceful enough to catch the attention of Congressman Walter Jones, thus creating the foundation for the reclassification legislation. Encouraged by that effort, she, along with her mother, Jeanie Phillips, have started a petition on change.org in an attempt to drive the reclassification via the voice of the people. If you'd like to sign it, the petition can be found at:
Additionally, Lisa and Jeanie encourage you to write both your Senators and your Congressperson as a show of your support for military working dogs' reclassification.
While many of the provisions enhancing the dogs' care and adoption process remained within the passed version of H.R.4310, and while Lisa and Jeanie have worked to ensure that the Secretary of the Air Force was made aware of those provisions and the important role that Lackland Air Force Base plays in them, reclassification remains their ultimate goal.
In continuing to work toward that goal, Lisa - her adopted military working dog's name is "Gizmo", by the way - founded the Retired Military Working Dog Assistance Organization in October 2011. You can also follow her on Twitter at:
@LisaPhillips82 and @RMWDAO
If you'd like to express your opinion about the reclassification of Military Working Dogs with Senator McCain's office, the number at which to leave a comment is: (202) 224-2235
Or feel free to send an email via his website: http://www.mccain.senate.gov/public/
As always comments are both welcome and encouraged.