President Obama has said, “A nation of 300 million strong should not be struggling to find enough qualified citizens to serve (in the Armed Forces). Recruiting and retention problems have been swept under the rug. We need to pay attention to our military families.” The sentiment has been a persistent theme for both Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, who repeatedly speak about quality of life for military families.
Families include their pets. The military is now allowing a consortium of management companies to essentially expel some pets from military housing.
In January, the Department of the Army released a memo announcing a new pet policy for families living on bases. The new policy defines dangerous dogs, and bans Pit Bulls (including American Staffordshire Terriers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers), Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, Chow Chows and also wolf hybrids.
The decision was made by the Residential Communities Initiative (RCI) consortium, which consist of the six private companies that manage the on-base housing.
U.S. Army spokesperson David Foster, speaking from the Pentagon, says that in 1996 military housing was privatized. The consortium was developed to create consistent policies, so when families move – as invariably happens in the military – the rules and regs are essentially the same no matter where they happen to land.
That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is banning dogs based on breed. Best Friends Animal Society, the American Humane Association, the ASPCA and even the Centers for Disease Control are among the very long list of organizations in opposition to breed bans. In 2000, the Humane Society of the United States, American Veterinary Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control partnered to investigate whether or not breed specific legislation is effective. The results of their studies were published in veterinary and children’s’ medical journals. They determined that breed specific legislation does not improve public safety.
Ledy VanKavage, senior legislative analyst at Best Friends Animal Society is outraged at what amounts to canine profiling. “Decisions about dogs should be based on individual temperament not appearances,” she says.
Kathy Grim, vice president marketing and communications for Balfour Beatty Communities, an RCI consortium member, says the bans have been created as a matter of public safety. The specific dog breeds named in the ban were determined based upon input from current residents living on military bases and previous dog attacks (including a fatal attacks on bases, although Grim couldn’t offer any details of that attack). She also said the insurance carriers weighed in.
However, there is no scientific data to confirm that Chow Chows (which are banned) are any more inherently dangerous than Akitas (which are allowed), or that Pit Bulls – that’s right, even Pit Bulls (banned) – are any more dangerous than German Shepherd dogs (not banned). Interestingly, if German Shepherds were banned, the Vice President of the United States and his family, which includes his newly adopted German Shepherd, couldn’t live on a military base.
Various surveys concur over 90 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the family. Even more to the point when a family member is deployed, pets provide security, comfort and unconditional love to those left behind when they need it the most.
One high ranking member of the military who asked that his name remain off record says the value of dogs is like what the TV commercial says, ‘priceless.’ “Even petting a dog is therapy,” he says. Of course, that’s true whether you’re petting a Rhodesian Ridgeback (a large breed not banned) or a Rotweiller (a large banned breed).
While banned breeds currently living on-base are ‘grandfathered if a family moves to a different base, they can not bring in a banned dog. Grim, who is based in Philadelphia, could offer no solution for families, except to live in off-base housing – where the ban on breeds doesn’t apply. (Although exceptions for allowances to move in with a banned breed may be made by individual on-base property managers for “compelling reasons,” according to a document of Frequently Asked Questions on the consortium’s pet policies).
VanKavage wonders about the President’s efforts to increase recruitment, as well as military family morale. Certainly, newbies, in particular, often do live on base. But if they happen to have a banned breed – that’s no longer an option, at least not if they want to keep their dog.
Grim adds, “Most families (around 75 percent) actually live off post (or off base). For those that it (the band) does affect, we do like dogs – but our number one objective is to keep children and families safe.”
While the decision on breed bans was made by the RCI consortium, you’d think the United States Department of the Army could overrule it, particularly since it is based on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific documentation. Foster said, “I doubt there is much recourse the Army can make – we assume this was a decision made with great care.”
But could the Army step in they wanted to? Could the Army step in and ask for a alternative approach if say, all cats were banned, or all Cocker Spaniels? “Well, I suppose there’s always the opportunity to do something,” he says.
VanKavage adds, “This is still news, and it’s likely most public officials aren’t aware of this ban and (it’s) affront to military families. I believe in my heart President and Michelle Obama would be appalled.”
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services