The Trump administration on Monday announced it would temporarily stop sending bomb-sniffing dogs to Jordan and Egypt after a number of the animals died from mistreatment.
A State Department official told the BBC the suspension was meant to prevent the deaths of more dogs as part of its Explosive Detection Canine Program. An inspector general report published in September “found an overall lack of policies and standards governing the program,” which aims to help partner states fight terrorism.
“Any death of a canine in the field is an extremely sad event,” a department spokesperson said.
However, the anonymous State Department official said the estimated 71 U.S.-trained dogs currently deployed to the two countries would remain in place for now. The dogs “play a critical role in our [counterterrorism] efforts overseas and in saving American lives,” the official said.
Over the past two decades, the United States has sent some 170 sniffer dogs to 10 countries, most of them in the Middle East. Jordan has been by far the biggest beneficiary of the program. The country received 81 of the dogs, including 61 of the 100 sent since 2016.
The inspector general’s review, launched last May based on a tip, determined that the program lacked oversight and the dogs were treated with negligence in their host countries, leading to an unknown number of deaths. In three cases highlighted by the report, Belgian Malinoises trained in the United States and sent to Jordan between 2016 and 2017 quickly developed life-threatening health problems.
Faces of the Explosive Detection Canine Program
One of the dogs, Zoe, died in Jordan of heat stroke at age 2, the report said. Mencey, 3, and Athena, 2, returned to the United States for treatment after becoming “severely emaciated.” Mencey later had to be euthanized due to kidney failure; Athena was nursed back to health.
Three of the 10 dogs sent to Egypt in the past three years also died, the report said, from lung cancer, a ruptured gall bladder and heat stroke, respectively.
Jordan and Egypt have so far made no public comment on the matter.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Antiterrorism Assistance, which runs the Explosive Detection Canine Program, in August accepted the report’s top-line recommendations for better protecting the dogs. But the office rejected the idea to temporarily “cease providing additional canines to Jordan,” citing national security concerns.
A State Department official acknowledged in an email exchange with Pluralist that the department had reversed that position this week and also suspended sending dogs to Egypt. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not explain the reasoning behind the move, saying only that the suspension would continue “until improvements are made for the health and welfare of U.S. granted canines.“
In the meantime, “The ATA Explosive Detection Canine Program is active still in Jordan and Egypt,” the official added.
Andy Ngo, an editor at The Post Millennial, on Christmas Eve tweeted news of the policy change, noting that dogs are considered “impure” in many traditional Islamic societies.
The US is temporarily ceasing to send American-trained bomb-sniffing dogs to Egypt and Jordan after canines died in their care, were abused and severely malnourished. In Islamic societies, dogs are perceived as spiritually impure. https://t.co/l7mwbdOwpg pic.twitter.com/dBsESrwkQT
— Andy Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) December 24, 2019
While commenters cheered the development, some wondered why it took so long or demanded more drastic action.
“GET THESE ANIMALS BACK NOW!!!” said one Trump- and dog-loving Twitter user.
President Donald Trump has himself shown a soft spot for U.S. service dogs. In October, he held a White House ceremony to honor Conan, a Belgian Malinois that was injured in the military raid that led to the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Conan is a tough cookie, and nobody’s going to mess with Conan,” Trump said.