The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that it wants to buy 3,000 dogs from breeders to increase its force of canines that sniff out explosives, cash and drugs. Thousands of homeless dogs languishing in animal shelters across our country would make excellent candidates for the program. Homeland Security should follow the lead of the Hearing Ear Dog Program and many police departments and fill its ranks with dogs adopted from shelters and breed rescue groups.
Instead, it plans to pay breeders to produce yet more dogs - and not just 3,000. As just 20 percent of dogs who are selected for service programs successfully complete the training process, this plan will result in another 15,000 dogs that have no hearth rug on which to lie and no one to take them to the park.
Breeding more dogs for this program is like dumping more oil into the Gulf of Mexico - it will make an existing catastrophe even worse. Our country is facing a massive dog overpopulation crisis, with 2 million to 4 million dogs euthanized each year simply because there aren’t enough homes for them. President Obama realized this when he incurred the wrath of every dog lover in the United States for considering the purchase of a dog. Instead, he adopted Bo.
Statistics show that the success rate of service dogs adopted from animal shelters and rescue agencies is the same as that of dogs who are bred specifically for certification jobs. And shelters everywhere have the type of dogs Homeland Security is seeking: breeds such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds and other dogs who are outgoing, alert, active and extremely people-friendly. As anyone who has volunteered in an animal shelter or adopted a dog can attest, purposely bred dogs don’t corner the market on intelligence, eagerness to please and extreme devotion to their guardians.
Adopting homeless dogs also would save taxpayers thousands of dollars because adoption fees are far lower than what breeders charge for puppies. The average price that Homeland Security paid for the 322 untrained dogs it purchased between April 2006 and June 2007 was $4,535 per dog - a cost that the department’s inspector general called “reasonable”!
Working for Homeland Security could be a golden opportunity for many homeless dogs, as long as they are trained humanely using positive reinforcement, live at home with their handlers during off-duty hours and are retired with their human guardians. Working at interesting tasks side by side with someone they like and who likes them is a far richer and more fulfilling life for dogs than being locked in a crate all day while their guardian is at work, for example.
If the department can help improve homeland security, save taxpayer money and create an enormous amount of public goodwill by adopting homeless dogs, why not choose that option?
Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Her latest book is “The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009).