Explosives detection dog, Athena, who was brought back to the U.S. because she was inadequately fed while working in Jordan. OIG/State photo

U.S. Stops Sending Trained Explosives Detection Dogs to Jordan and Egypt Following Deaths

The US has stopped sending explosives detection dogs to Jordan and Egypt after the deaths of a number of animals due to negligence.

In the last two decades, the Department of State has funded the training and deployment of over 200 canines to various foreign countries under the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP). Jordan has been the largest recipient of trained dogs from EDCP.

In September 2019, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of State published its evaluation of the Department’s management of EDCP, concluding that there was a lack of controls to ensure the health and welfare of canines after deployment. Specifically, OIG found that the Department lacked policies and standards governing EDCP, provided dogs to foreign partners without signed written agreements that outline standards of care, and conducted health and welfare follow-ups infrequently and inconsistently. Additionally, OIG found ongoing health and welfare concerns among dogs deployed to Jordan and found that the Department continued to supply dogs to Jordan without plans for funding or care.

OIG detailed the cases of three specific dogs in Jordan (one died while in Jordan, and the other two were returned to the United States where one was euthanized and the other was nourished back to health). OIG recommended that the Department cease providing dogs to Jordan until there was a sustainability plan in place to ensure their health and welfare.

Unfortunately, the Department disagreed with this recommendation, citing national security-related concerns. The Department agreed with four other recommendations that addressed, for example, the need for written agreements regarding standards of care.

After the evaluation was made public in September 2019, OIG received a hotline complaint stating that additional canines beyond those described in the evaluation had died from non-natural (that is, preventable) causes in Jordan in 2019 after OIG concluded its fieldwork. As a result, OIG requested information from the Department regarding any deaths of canines in the EDCP since September 2018. These findings were published in a new OIG report on December 20.

The Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (DS/ATA) provided records for deaths of EDCP canines since September 2018. Dogs provided to Jordan are monitored on site by DS/ATA mentors and a veterinary team, and the Department relies on these personnel to provide information on the status of the dogs in that location. In other locations, DS/ATA relies upon foreign partner nations to self-report canine deaths. Since September 2018, DS/ATA provided an additional 20 dogs to Jordan under the antiterrorism assistance program.

DS/ATA confirmed to OIG that, in June and September 2019, two DS/ATA dogs deployed to Jordan died of non-natural causes; these dogs were in addition to those described in the September 2019 report. On June 7, 2019, a canine died of hyperthermia (heat stroke), according to a necropsy conducted by the DS/ATA veterinarian on site. OIG’s September 2019 report describes heat-related injuries as a significant concern for canines working in the Middle East and quotes a veterinarian who said that deaths due to hyperthermia are “cases of negligence and improper care” rather than accidents. The same veterinarian stated that this is an especially “terrible death.” OIG notes that DS/ATA was aware of this death when it reviewed a draft of the earlier OIG report, yet made no mention of the incident in its response. DS/ATA reported to OIG on September 27, however, that the mentors and vet team have redoubled efforts to prevent hyperthermia in Jordan.

In September 2019, another dog died of poisoning by an insecticide that had been sprayed in or near a kennel. DS/ATA reported to OIG on September 27 that, as a result of this death, the insecticide will no longer be used in any of the Jordanian police force’s kennels.

Finally, DS informed OIG in October 2019 that another DS/ATA canine suffers from Leishmaniasis, a preventable but potentially deadly and transmittable vector-borne disease.

In its December 20 report, OIG says that while DS/ATA and its contractor have attempted to make improvements in Jordan, health and welfare concerns persist.

DS/ATA also informed OIG that it learned in May 2019 that of the 10 dogs provided by DS/ATA to Egypt in August 2018, one had died of lung cancer and another died from a ruptured gall bladder. These deaths were not mentioned when responding to a draft of OIG’s earlier report.  Subsequently, another dog in Egypt died of hyperthermia in September 2019. As noted in OIG’s prior report, Egypt denied Department officials permission to visit the kennels or the airport where the canines would work; Egypt also would not allow Department mentors to accompany dogs back to Egypt for in-country training. In September 2019, DS/ATA said Embassy Cairo had formally requested complete medical reports for the three deceased canines.

As previously mentioned, DS/ATA agreed with four recommendations in the September report and have begun to implement new policies related to the care and welfare of canines deployed to foreign partners. For example, DS/ATA facilitated the retirement and adoption of seven canines within the United States in October 2019. These seven dogs had been trained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for DS/ATA and spent their careers working in Jordan. Additionally, from May to October 2019, DS completed health, welfare and validation visits for the DS/ATA dogs in four partner nations and had another four trips planned for 2019. In August 2019, 10 DS/ATA canines were repossessed from Morocco because the dogs were not being used for their intended purpose.

However, as also noted in its response to OIG’s prior report, the Department disagreed with OIG’s recommendation that it cease providing additional canines to Jordan until there is a sufficient sustainability plan in place to ensure their health and welfare. It asserted that it had taken significant steps to improve the health and welfare of the canines provided to Jordan and, moreover, stated that the program had to continue, regardless of these health and welfare concerns, due to ongoing national security issues in the region.

But the death of two canines from non-natural causes—namely, hyperthermia and poisoning—since June 2019 raises serious questions about the Department’s contention that it has taken adequate steps to protect their health and safety. OIG is particularly concerned that the deaths of the two additional Jordanian dogs occurred while four Department-funded personnel were in-country to monitor the care of the dogs. Further, dogs receiving inadequate care or that are in poor health cannot perform the tasks for which they were trained, which seemingly undercuts any benefit from the program, national security or otherwise.

In addition, Egypt’s acceptance of canines while denying the Department the ability to monitor their health and welfare raises questions about the Department’s ability to ensure that foreign assistance is being used as intended and achieving its purpose. The fact that three of the 10 dogs Egypt has received in the past year have died amplifies these concerns about the Department’s lack of access.

Accordingly, OIG has modified its earlier Recommendation 1 to include both Jordan and Egypt, and the Department of State has now concurred in an effort to prevent further deaths. Although no new canines will travel to Jordan or Egypt until care and oversight improve, it is not yet known if the dogs already deployed in Jordan and Egypt will remain there. Both countries have so far made no public comment on the issue.

Some believe that Islam is to blame for the deaths of these canines, however, working dogs and those who keep them are in fact praised in the faith. It is the act of keeping dogs as pets in the modern home that some – but not all –  Muslims take issue with. Where working, and even stray, dogs are concerned, humane care is underlined. For example, one hadith tells the story of a prostitute who was forgiven because of her humane treatment of a dog: “A prostitute was forgiven by Allah, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it.” And in the Quran’s story of the Companions of the Cave, the text tells us of “good believers” who “had their dog with them”.

There are certainly regional differences in animal care, but these have been borne through culturally accepted norms. And culture, though linked, is not religion. We need only look to how working dogs are treated in countries such as Spain and Cyprus to see that inadequate care and even cruelty to dogs do not solely exist in Islam. It is also worth remembering that the Bible has some unpleasant things to say about dogs, grouping them with sorcerers, murderers and sexually immoral. To suggest that the only reason these detection dogs died is because of Islam is therefore unhelpful and will not overcome the underlying problems for these dogs or the project.

The death of a working canine in the field is a tragedy. Preventable deaths and those that have been caused by neglect and inadequate care are both a tragedy and shameful. In addition, with detection dog training costing approximately $100,000 per dog and handler for initial start-up training alone, the loss of these dogs can be felt in the pocket as well as the heart.

In better news for our canine heroes, the U.S. Army, industry and academia have teamed to develop hearing protection for working dogs. High noise levels during training, transport, and operations can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss in working dogs.

The new Canine Auditory Protection System (CAPS) from Zeteo Tech, Inc., was developed in collaboration with Dr. Pete “Skip” Scheifele MD, PhD, LCDR USN (Ret) of the University of Cincinnati, a renowned animal audiology expert.

The CAPS project was supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command as part of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program managed by the Army Research Office.

“Even a short helicopter flight can affect a dog’s hearing, resulting in impaired performance and inability to hear the handler’s commands, which can hinder the mission,” said Dr. Stephen Lee, senior scientist at Army Research Office. “This new technology protects the canine while on missions and can extend the dog’s working life.”

Cumulative exposure can result in permanent hearing loss, reducing the dog’s working life. The CAPS has been tested extensively with military working dogs and federal law enforcement working dogs. Dr. Scheifele has measured the hearing protection effectiveness of the CAPS during helicopter operations and the dog’s short-term hearing loss was significantly reduced.

The CAPS utilizes lightweight acoustic absorption materials to block unwanted sounds. Unlike conventional hearing protection, the CAPS is constructed of flexible materials, easily conforming to the unique shape of a canine’s head. This flexibility is key to ensuring proper sealing around the ear and maximum sound reduction. The “Snood” style headgear was designed to uniformly distribute the pressure required to hold the hearing protection in place, avoiding difficulties associated with straps. At just over an inch thick, the CAPS low profile should not be a hindrance when working in tight spaces and is compatible with other gear used by working dogs.

Highly trained dogs play an integral role in counterterrorism, military and law enforcement operations, both in the U.S. and overseas. It is imperative that they are expertly maintained just like any other crucial piece of kit, and this includes developing new tech to protect them and greater vigilance from U.S. authorities when supplying canines to regions where animal welfare standards are historically poor.

Read the report concerning the EDCP dogs at OIG

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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