State, EPA look out for dogs (and other mammals)

Let’s talk about our four-legged friends for a moment.

Developments at two agencies show how animal welfare deserves consideration when critters serve in federal programs.

First, take those smart dogs sniffing for explosives. They became one of the common sights in airports and other large public gathering areas in the post-9/11 era. They’re not pets, at least not until they retire. But millions of American dog owners and, presumably, millions more people who simply like animals, trust that the federal agencies responsible for these dogs treat them properly.

Less certain is the treatment of explosive detecting canines or EDCs, as these pooches are officially known. The U.S. sends them overseas under various foreign aid programs. An investigation by the State Department Office of Inspector General recommended State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism stop shipping EDCs to Jordan, which has received some 100 dogs. Why?

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Ten dogs died well before their time. Many were found by inspectors to be kept in filthy conditions, underfed and disease-ridden. This goes back more than 10 years. By 2017 the Jordanian canine program was in dire straits, according to the Diplomatic Security Service’s Antiterrorism Assistance program. The IG report is dotted with picture of dogs so skinny their ribs stick out, dogs with untrimmed nails, dogs afflicted with engorged ticks, kennels with dry water bowls and poop all over the floor.

Treatment of U.S.-trained dogs provided to Thailand fared somewhat better, but kennels had uneven conditions. EDCs going to Lebanon fared better still — two were too fat. Ditto for dogs sent to Morocco and Bahrain; inspectors found them well treated but overfed.

The IG found, with respect to the EDC program in general, “an overall lack of policies and standards governing the program.” Dogs go without written agreements on how they’ll be treated. State delivered them to Jordan, knowing how badly the dogs fared there.

The main conclusion: “The Department has expended millions of dollars in antiterrorism assistance funds for the [explosive-sniffing dog program] but it does not ensure the health and welfare of the dogs after deployment.”

It now appears State’s OIG and the dog-exporting bureaus are in a snit. The IG recommends the Bureaus of Counterterrorism and Diplomatic Security stop sending dogs to Jordan. The bureaus disagree, on the grounds it would harm counter-terrorism efforts. The bureaus did agree with the recommendation to develop written policies and procedures for the health and welfare of the dogs.

So do it, folks.

Meanwhile, over at the EPA, Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed off on $4.2 million in grants to several colleges and universities. They’re to develop new ways of either improving or doing away with animal testing in the evaluation of the effects of chemicals on people. There’s a legal mandate to do this, and it’s part of EPA’s strategic plan.

Yesterday, in a memo, Wheeler promised to reduce by 30 percent requests and associated funding for studies using mammals, by 2025, and to eliminate mammal testing by 2035.

Since humankind stood upright out of the swamps, people have relied on animals and vice versa. Even the Bible says beasts of burden get a day off each week. Over the years, the Government Accountability Office has also looked into how federal agencies treat animals.

The National Park Service has web pages devoted to how it looks after the mules it uses in various functions, but it’s been dinged over the years for how it treats old horses that live beyond their utility.

On the other hand, people have complained over the years that the trails up and down the Grand Canyon accommodate a mule’s gait better than a human’s. Having hiked up and down, and stepped aside as a mule train sauntered by, I’m fine with that. Here’s a 2017 posting for people who might want to adopt a retired mule.

Mules, horses, dogs, rabbits, monkeys and many other species come within the federal orbit. Animals aren’t people, but people have an obligation to treat sentient creatures with care. I’m glad to know the watchdogs are on the job.

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