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Ministry of Defence: Dogs

Volume 748: debated on Monday 14 October 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps are taken by the Ministry of Defence to retrain and rehome dogs when their period of duty in the military at home or abroad is complete; and what proportion of those dogs are returned to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, military working dogs and their handlers provide a valuable range of specialist roles worldwide. The dogs’ welfare is a primary consideration during and after their service. The MoD rehomes all suitable dogs, often with someone closely involved when the dog was serving and with families who are carefully vetted. There are no time restrictions on a dog being kept while a suitable home is looked for. The majority of dogs serving overseas are re-homed in the United Kingdom.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that I am extremely pleased with it, as will be the highly regarded Dogs Trust? These dogs have served their country very well at the side of the brave soldiers, whose lives they often save, and it is good to hear that the Army is treating them humanely on retirement.

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend is pleased with my Answer. I join her in paying tribute to the wonderful work done by the Dogs Trust. All personnel from the military working-dog community do everything that they possibly can to rehome all suitable dogs at the end of their service life. Many dogs, understandably, are adopted by their handlers. We have rehomed around 360 dogs during the past three years and currently have 150 people waiting to offer a home to a suitable dog.

When the Minister has solved the problem of dogs, will he turn his undoubted abilities to solving the problem of the £2 billion cash surplus that the Ministry of Defence has apparently been unable to spend, as was reported in the Sunday Times yesterday, to the detriment of major missions in the Middle East, where we have significant defence interests?

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord but this Question is specifically on dogs. He can table a Question on the issue that he has raised at some other point.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I have had the privilege of owning two dogs that were retired from military service, which of course I purchased from the Ministry of Defence, and that both were beautifully looked after and were quite excellent?

My Lords, I am really pleased to hear what my noble friend says. There is great interest in this issue, particularly in the different types of military working dogs. I have asked my department to put in the Library a list of all the different types of specialist and protection dogs, as well as the reasons why a small number of working dogs were killed during the past three years—I think that it was two this year, one the year before and one the year before that—along with information on the number of dogs that were put to sleep and the reasons for that.

My Lords, I accept that this Question is primarily about the rehoming of military dogs, but is there not also a problem with the substantial number of ex-servicemen who end up sleeping on our streets because they are not afforded the proper moves into civilian life? I would be grateful, if he cannot do so today, if the Minister could perhaps report to the House at some future stage on the steps being taken to ensure that ex-service personnel are treated appropriately by this society?

My Lords, I am very happy to do that at a future point in a defence debate, but this is a good-news story about what we are doing for military dogs. I am very unhappy to see us going off-piste.

My Lords, will the Government examine the enactment of “Robbie’s law” in the United States, which has led to a huge reduction in the number of retired dogs that have to be put to sleep, with a view to introducing a similar system in this country?

My Lords, I am very happy to look at that. The situation in this country is that the decision to put a dog to sleep is taken by a veterinary officer and only after all possible avenues have been exhausted. From 2010 to June 2013, sadly, 300 dogs had to be put down, and the reasons for this included injury, illness and age-related welfare reasons. As I have said, those cases were looked at by veterinary officers and the decision was taken only as a last resort.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have a good track record in this country of looking after animals within the military? I am sure he will be interested to hear that when we did Options for Change at the beginning of the 1990s, our one study into animals within the forces, known colloquially as the Winalot study, discovered, to the surprise of the Navy, that Army and Air Force dogs had a higher per diem rate for food than officers and men within the Royal Navy.

My Lords, if I may shift the emphasis from the Government to dogs, is my noble friend aware that Greek vases demonstrate a considerable use of dogs two-and-a-half millennia ago? That tradition has been maintained for a very long time—to the enormous credit of the dogs.

My Lords, last week it was government policy being thwarted by badgers moving the goalposts; this week it is defunct, deceased dogs causing headaches. Presumably the Minister can give an assurance that no decisions to put down dogs are made on financial grounds, bearing in mind the recent disclosures about the hundreds of thousands of pounds being consumed within the Ministry of Defence on calls to 118 numbers at a time when money is in short supply. Will the Minister also clarify what percentage of military working dogs are put down before they are retired, and what percentage are retrained or re-homed on retirement?

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the commitment that no dogs are put down for financial reasons. The vast majority of dogs had to be put down as the animals’ condition impeded and reduced their quality of life. As noble Lords may know from sad personal experience, everyone will at times have to put animals to sleep when it is the only option. The death or destruction of a military working dog is subject to formal investigation and report, as required. Dogs are not usually retrained during their military service. The role that a dog undertakes is normally one which the dog has a natural inclination to perform as a result of breed characteristics and behavioural traits.

My Lords, there are occasions when it is impossible to find a successor owner for the dog. Would my noble friend bear in mind the work of the Cinnamon Trust, which has a fascinating remit of supplying bereaved people with dogs which have also been bereaved, and homing other difficult cases in a way which promotes the happiness of both the animal and the human?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. I will certainly study carefully the excellent work of the Cinnamon Trust.