Anyone who has read the NY times article “Troops betrayed as Army dumps hundreds of heroic war dogs” may feel outraged over the missing bomb-detection dogs that have saved countless lives downrange. The article plays on emotions without diving into the real issue of outsourcing K9 working dogs to the military.

K2 Solutions is a company that won an Army contract to provide the Army with bomb-detection dogs, just as many other companies do for other military services. The military does not have the infrastructure or personnel to raise and train working dogs. Smaller units with designated missions may have their own dogs and kennels. Generally, when troops leave theater, they leave their dogs behind for the next unit to use. The dogs were the property of K2 Solutions and not the military. When the dogs are no longer able to perform their duties, they are retired. Since the dogs are the property of K2 Solutions, they had the ultimate say on where they go.

Robby’s Law was passed in November 2000, which allows for the adoption of military working dogs to their handlers, law enforcement, and families. It doesn’t give a priority of the recipient, only allows them to be adopted instead of being euthanized. K2 Solutions did hold adoption events for the working dogs, however, the article points out that the priority was given to law enforcement first without first trying to identify previous handlers.

The article alleges that the people adopting the dogs as “law enforcement” were not vetted or properly identified as officers. Some of the dogs may have been sold a second time to a foreign government. Even though the article mentions specific handlers that have submitted multiple applications to obtain their previous dog, they seem to have been ignored or never matched up with their specific dogs. K2 Solutions had a policy to allow handler adoptions but failed to do their due diligence to link up the retired dog with their previous handlers. K2 Solution’s CEO even adopted a dog that was requested for adoption by his previous handler.

I spoke with Mike Ritland (U.S. Navy SEAL, owner of Trikos International, and author of “Trident K9 Warriors” and “Team Dog”) regarding the NY Times article. His experience in both the Navy SEALS and as owner of Trikos International allows him to offer a rare perspective because he has been both the operator and the K9 training business owner.

Though he has never worked with K2 Solutions or their dogs, Ritland has worked with other contract companies that have supplied the military with working dogs. He compares K2 solutions to other security contractors such as Blackwater or Triple Canopy. He believes that the article is written in such an inflammatory manner to lure readers to click on the headline. The term “dumping” is incorrect; he said that K2 Solutions operates in a “gray area” because the dog is not property of the military but that of the contracted company. He says:

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The only thing that seems credible from the article are the desires of the former dog handlers and their attempts to locate and adopt the dogs they worked with overseas. There are no statutes, mandates, or laws that specifically state ‘x,y, or z’ have to take place for these dogs. At the end of the day, it is the company’s call on where the dogs go because legally they belong to the company. If anything, the article does shine a light on the company’s policy or system in place on how to deal with the dogs once they retire.

K2 Solutions are not legally wrong unless they violated their contract. They followed Robby’s Law by allowing the dogs to be adopted. The real issue is the contract itself and the role of the contracting officer in charge of overseeing contracts with K2 Solutions. The bottom line is, if it is not written in the contract, it will not happen.

If the military expects former handlers to have top priority in adopting the retired dogs, then it is the responsibility of the contracting officer to express that in the contract and hold the company accountable. Every military contract has a contracting officer (I only have experience with Army contracts, not other agencies such as the Department of State or the FBI) assigned to hold the contracted company accountable and to ensure it has met the statement of work written in the contract. It would be interesting to see the actual K2 Solutions contract and its statement of work. Was the priority of the adoptions mentioned?

Though the situation is emotionally charged and soldiers are furious for not being able to adopt the K2 Solutions dogs first, there is a lesson learned for future contracts with K2 Solutions or other military working dog companies. The contract should include clear expectations for the dogs’ retirement and the priority of dog adoptions. Current military that work with contracted working dogs should seek out their specific contract. If it does not include anything discussing the priority of adoption for military handlers, they should reach out to the assigned contracting officer to get an amendment added to the contract. This might be the fastest way to be an advocate and make a difference in the lives of the soon-to-be-retired dogs.