Family wants fallen Marine's canine partner

ROS

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Family wants fallen Marine’s military dog


Corps resists adoption efforts until German shepherd is retired

By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer

Posted : Tuesday Dec 4, 2007 10:35:51 EST

When Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee’s personal effects were shipped to his childhood home in Mississippi after his death in Iraq last spring, his family found some typical items — a laptop computer, a pair of glasses and a few photos from home.

But they also found some things not every Marine would have — several dog toys, a harness and a short, knotted piece of rope, gnawed and frayed at the ends.

Lee was a 20-year-old dog handler who spent the final months of his life with a German shepherd named Lex at his side. They were on a mission together on March 21 when a rocket-propelled grenade killed Lee. As the young Marine lay dying on a street in Fallujah, the dog nudged his handler’s face, then lay loyally at his side while a corpsman treated his fatal wounds, several Marines told his family.

More than eight months later, as members of the Lee family prepare for their first Christmas since Dustin’s death, they have a final request of the Marine Corps: permission to adopt their son’s canine partner.

“I know Dustin would want Lex to be with his family,” said Lee’s uncle, Brian Rich. “They gave their son — he made the ultimate sacrifice. If it brings his family some comfort to see the dog there, then why not?”

But Marine officials say Lex is still on active duty. The 7-year-old dog was wounded in the same explosion that killed Lee, but has fully recovered. The dog is working alongside military police, assisting with force protection at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., where Lee was stationed.

The Lee family hasn’t seen the dog since Marines brought him to the funeral in April.

Marine Corps command is “extremely sympathetic to the Lee family’s desire to adopt the military working dog after the tragic incident that claimed the life of his handler,” said Colie Young, a base spokesman. “The command will continue to support the Lee family in the adoption process at the appropriate time, if and when Lex is found unfit for duty and appropriately screened for adoption.”

Marine Corps Headquarters is aware of the family’s request, and is “working the situation at their level,” according to 2nd Lt. Caleb Eames, a public affairs officer in Albany. Lee was the third of four military dog handlers killed since 2003.

The laws covering adoption of military dogs have evolved in recent years. During the Vietnam War, thousands of dogs were abandoned or euthanized when U.S. troops withdrew. Virtually none came home.

For decades, the military considered the dogs to be “equipment” and had no process for adopting them after they “retired.” That changed in 2000, when President Clinton signed a law allowing adoptions once the dogs could no longer perform their duties.

In 2005, Congress heard the story of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jamie Dana, who suffered nearly fatal injuries and asked to adopt her bomb-sniffing dog. President Bush signed a law permitting early adoptions for the individual troops who have worked with the dog.

The case of the Lee family may be the first instance of a deceased handler’s family seeking to adopt a military dog. The Lee family has begun a petition drive and created a Web site to chronicle their efforts to adopt the dog.

Lex is one of about 170 dogs in the Corps, and the canines are in intense demand. Lex “is potentially saving lives by performing his mission,” Eames said.

The relationship between a dog and its handler in a combat zone is unique, said John Burnam, author of “Dog Tags of Courage: The Turmoil of War and the Rewards of Companionship.”

“When that bond finally clicks, you just sort of become one. Once the handler draws down into the level of the dog’s world and learns what the dog knows, he can really communicate with the animal,” Burnam said. “You can see, in the case of Dustin Lee, the dog didn’t get startled by the explosion and run away. The dog was wounded and bleeding, but he crawled over and pawed to get his handler’s attention.”
http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2007/12/marine_dogadoption_071203/
news/2007/12/marine_dogadoption_071203


That dog isn't just a dog, he's a Marine. He's not done with his mission by any means.
 

LibraryLady

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Agreed Ros, though at 7 years, the dog is ending it's life as a MWD. The job takes a heavy toll on the critters. I rarely saw them much older than this - unless we were deciding to dispose of them. I imagine the work in the ME is aging these critters even faster.

And to boot:

But Marine officials say Lex is still on active duty. The 7-year-old dog was wounded in the same explosion that killed Lee, but has fully recovered. The dog is working alongside military police, assisting with force protection at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., where Lee was stationed.

That indicates the dog is aggression trained. Does this family know how to handle that kind of critter? I wonder if they truly realize this isn't some kind of pet. Anthropomorphizing critters creates all kinds of misunderstandings and tragedies.

I don't have a problem with the dogs trained to use their noses being retired into the civilian world.

I do have a problem with the aggression trained animals retiring into the civilian world, even with a trained handler. A MWD when not on duty, spends it's down time in a kennel. You would have to retrain the dog to deal with the social situation of living in a household and spending a considerable amount of time around civilians. That takes a heavy level of commitment. MWD's age much faster than a pet, all critters get more crotchedy as they get older; so you're looking at retraining/socializing 7-8 yo dog - the old saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks has a base wisdom.

[/rant]

RC, before you say anything, a MWD is different than a critter like you have, properly socialized into a household and yet aggression trained. I'm not talking about that, nor am I talking about an LEO aggression trained dog that lives at home with it's handler. I'm strictly speaking of those that are kenneled off-duty - as all MWD's are and some LEO dogs are.

LL
 

pardus

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I would have to say no to the request, the dog is too vaulable to the military.
I would probably have a different response if the Marine were still alive and wanted to adopt.
 

The91Bravo

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A sad story, but I believe the CPL would want his brothers to remain protected, and that his love for his comrades is greater than his family's desire to have the dog as a reminder of their lost child.
 

ROS

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Agreed wholly, LL. He's a trained Marine, not a pet.

It seems to me that they're trying to grasp the last thread attached to their son and hold on. Understandable, considering the short period of time lapsed sincde his death. However, common sense and logic trump emotion in the real world.
 

Paddlefoot

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I've heard of one instance where an Army NCO, a female MP, was wounded and asked to take her dog with her into retirement.

Initially, the Army said no, but they eventually relented. Different circumstances in that case.

I'd have to turn the family down. The dog is not a pet, it is a working member of the military. I don't think the family really knows what they'd be getting into, and they're sentimentalizing this pooch to some degree because of its connection to their son.
 

0699

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I'd be a little concerned about a MWD with their training being in the civilian world without a trained handler. I have no fear the dog will go "postal", but the handler is a vital (AFAIK) part of the man/dog team. If the dog is only trained for search, that's one thing, but an attack trained dog would be a real civil liability.

Anyone know what they do with MWD who are retired?
 

LibraryLady

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Anyone know what they do with MWD who are retired?

In my day, I employed the needle on more than one. No exceptions.

We had one that refused to bite, basically gave up on her aggression, just a big ol' lovable fur ball. No exceptions.

I can't imagine they've changed that policy in the last 20 years.

LL
 

pardus

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I can't imagine they've changed that policy in the last 20 years.

Anyone know what they do with MWD who are retired?

The laws covering adoption of military dogs have evolved in recent years.

For decades, the military considered the dogs to be “equipment” and had no process for adopting them after they “retired.” That changed in 2000, when President Clinton signed a law allowing adoptions once the dogs could no longer perform their duties.
....
 

LibraryLady

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I missed that, Pardus.

hmmm... http://www.militaryworkingdogs.com/needtoknow.shtml

Once they have completed their service they “can be retired”. At Lackland I do have some of the younger dogs, which have failed to complete training. The adoption law has a priority of adoption. 1st to Law enforcement agencies, 2nd to prior handlers, and then to the public.

Times have changed. It's good they can retire them, but I still disagree with the adoption of these critters to the untrained public. Notice this family would rank third in the priority to adopt the MWD their son worked with. Of course in this day and age, their 'squeaky wheel' will probably get the grease when the time comes for this dog to retire.

RIP Cpl Lee Prayers out to your family and if they get their wish to adopt your dog, may it be a successful adoption with no problems.

LL
 

Chopstick

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Marines let dog go to slain handlers' family

http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/12/13/slainmarine.sdog.ap/index.html

SAVANNAH, Georgia (AP) -- Marine Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee and his German shepherd, Lex, scoured Iraq for roadside bombs together, slept next to each other and even posed in Santa hats for a holiday photo.

When a mortar attack killed the 20-year-old Marine in Falluja a few months later, Lex, whimpering from his own injuries, had to be pulled away, Lee's father was told.

That strong bond compelled the slain Marine's family to adopt 8-year-old Lex even though the military said he still had two years of service.

The family lobbied the military for months, launched an Internet petition and enlisted the aid of a North Carolina congressman who took their case straight to the Marine Corps' top general.

On Wednesday, the Marine Corps finally announced Lex could go home to Lee's family. It is the first time the military has granted a dog early retirement to be adopted by someone other than a former handler.

"We knew that's what Dustin would have wanted out of this," said Jerome Lee, the slain Marine's father. "He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own."

Lee's family from Quitman, Mississippi, is scheduled to pick up Lex from the Albany base December 21, exactly nine months after the fatal attack.

Though some shrapnel remains lodged in his back, Lex has otherwise recovered from his wounds and has been serving alongside military policemen at the Albany base since July.

"It is extraordinary," said Col. Christian Haliday, commander of the Marine Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, where the dog is based. "As far as we know, it's the first time that a waiver of policy of this nature has been granted."

Officials at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, which trains dogs for all service branches, confirmed it is the first case of its kind.

Lee joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 2004. His father said his drive to become a dog handler came from Lee's mother, who worked with search-and-rescue dogs for their local emergency management agency when Lee was a boy.

After finishing his military police and dog handler training, the young Marine headed to Albany. Lee adopted his first canine partner, Doenja, from the military and sent him home to Mississippi last year when the 11-year-old dog began losing his sight and had to retire.

Lee formed an equally strong bond with his new partner, Lex.

The military has more than 1,700 dogs that work alongside American troops, including about 260 in the Marines. Their bomb-sniffing skills have been in high demand in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, said he discussed the Lees' case with Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps commandant.

"The way I look at this, dogs are being trained every day to be a part of the armed forces," Jones said. "This family gave their son for their country. This is a small gift back to them."
 

Gypsy

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This decision is probably not a good idea considering all that has been previously mentioned and discussed. I can understand the family "wanting" the dog...for emotional reasons, but...well, hopefully it will all work out.



RIP Cpl Lee, may your family find peace.
 

ROS

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This decision is probably not a good idea considering all that has been previously mentioned and discussed. I can understand the family "wanting" the dog...for emotional reasons, but...well, hopefully it will all work out.


RIP Cpl Lee, may your family find peace.


The military has a shortage of working dogs as we speak. This dog still has a very vital role to play, but isn't being allowed to because of sentiment, not logic.

I wouldn't be able to live with myself knowing that I was the reason that this dog was out of commission, especially after the child that I bore sacrificed both training him and working alongside him. That dog should be out there protecting others and doing the job he was trained to do.
 

Gypsy

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Well, it's "selfish" in that it is an emotional and personal issue for them, ROS, and that's probably all they can see right now. In a way I can't blame them for that. But I do agree that from a logical (objective?) perspective their desire to take this dog is probably not the best one when looking at the big picture and the need for working dogs...
 
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