Is It Okay for Dogs to Die on Duty?

We give good dog news along with the bad and the ugly, but it can be really upsetting to read a story like this one that ran last week in the New York Times. The story described the death of Ape, a dog trained to work for the FBI. The dog’s working career lasted a mere three weeks.

The two-year-old Czech German Shepherd was shot in the chest by a gunman who was promptly killed by return fire from Ape’s team. Despite being rushed to an emergency veterinary hospital in an armored vehicle, Ape died shortly after arrival. Ape had been on active duty for the FBI for a little over two weeks.

“Ape was doing what he was trained to do and made the ultimate sacrifice for his team,” the agency said in a statement. “His actions were heroic and prevented his teammates from being seriously wounded or killed.” Ape was buried on Monday the agency’s headquarters in Quantico, Va.; his name will be added to a memorial wall dedicated to dogs killed in the line of duty.

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For some dog lovers, the statement that Ape “made the ultimate sacrifice” is cold comfort. “It’s a tragedy,” says Chris Hulbert of Los Angeles, a publicist and film producer, who was saddened to learn that military and paramilitary dogs are classified as equipment.“These dogs are not equipment, and they’re not heroes -– they are victims.”

Hulbert has a point: The dog didn’t make a sacrifice -– he was sacrificed. Are we such a primitive culture that our law enforcers perform animal sacrifices on the job? Surely the United States of America, leader in science and technology, can do better.

To get people talking about the issue, Hulbert created a Facebook page called the American Canine Civil Liberties Union (ACCLU). His motivation, he says, was “multiple conversations with friends in law enforcement and the military, who hesitantly agreed with me when I brought up the topic of these dogs and how they’re treated. This issue is barely now coming to light, despite major news coverage.”

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Dogs do so much for humans, offering comfort and companionship, lowering our blood pressure, and using their astonishing sense of smell to detect explosives. Is the state of American technology such that, in 2013, we can’t build robots to stand in for dogs in highly dangerous situations? Isn’t it high time to make that a priority so more dogs don’t die the way Ape did?

At the very least, what about body armor to better protect the dogs? According to the Times article, Ape was sent ahead of his team “equipped with a camera.” The reporters make no mention of protective gear the dog may or may not have been wearing.

Was the dog supplied with a bulletproof vest? The reporters don’t even raise the issue, and that’s a serious lapse — though the article does state that “the FBI and police declined to discuss the specifics of why and how Ape was used in the raid.” When the mainstream media reports on dogs, crucial questions like this need to be asked, even if they cannot be answered.

Note to all journalists in all media platforms, print and broadcast: Please maintain the same high investigative standards in reporting about dogs as you would about any other subject. Dogs deserve to have their lives and deaths respectfully recorded with accuracy and attention to detail — especially when they perform so nobly in service to us.

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Even if you don’t care about dogs and their welfare or how they’re covered in the media, as an American taxpayer perhaps, you likely care about how government money is spent. What do you think when thousands of dollars of training time and effort go into a magnificent working dog, only to be wasted weeks after the dog completes the course? Is there any way to prevent this from happening again?

On October 28, 2009, another FBI tactical dog, a Belgian Malinois named Freddy, was killed in the line of duty. He’d started the job 13 months earlier.

R.I.P., Ape and Freddy. May your lives not have been lost in vain.

What do you think about dogs being used as military and paramilitary equipment? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Police dog in training by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Julia Szabo, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.


Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

thank you for the article. both police & military dogs are doing great jobs

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Dogster, for Sharing this!

Carrie-Anne Brown

very sad news, RIP Ape and Freddy

Aimon B.
Aimon B4 years ago

Dogs have been Warriors beside Humans for thousands of years. It is this single trait that has led us to breed them so copiously during that time. To deny what they are bred for is an insult to them and us. I do however agree that they should wear vests as other officers do. (Unless I am recalling incorrectly.. some do wear vests.. they make them just for dogs)

Denise L.
denise lynch4 years ago

To AFRA: What does what you eat have to do with whether or not it is O.K. for dogs
to be killed in the line of duty!? The story is not about your crusade for veganism...nor
is it a platform for your lifestyle!'s about lives!

Denise L.
denise lynch4 years ago

These dogs are not used as equipment...they are used as an
extension of our armed forces! Is it O.K. for them to be
killed while on duty...of course not! Our servicemen and
women are killed every day while on duty but you never
hear anyone ask if that's O.K...and of course it's not!
They have special equipment to help protect them so the
same should be provided for these bullet proof
vests and whatever else is out there that would protect!
I understand that these things don't guarantee their
safety but at least it gives them a chance to survive!

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

Afta what does being vegan have to do with this discussion/topic? Please try to stay on the subject.

Afra-Anastasia Lisieux-Ma

No it's not OK but I hope everyone here who has said it is not OK is living a strict vegan lifestyle or your words are meaningless.

E. J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Is It Okay for Dogs to work as police dogs? They do wear bullet proof vests.

Diane L.
Diane L4 years ago

Debbie T., I think cameras and robots have a place, and they DO work for certain scenarios, but a camera can't SNIFF out drugs or a "perp" hiding behind a bush if the humans controlling them don't know the "perp" is there. The camera, nor the robot can contain or subdue a "perp" that is trying to escape, either.

People become emotional and upset when animals are injured or die ON THE JOB for any reason, and rightfully so. If you, for example, lost a beloved family member or friend in Boston last week, would you object to a dog finding the remaining brother, hiding in the boat? Now, dogs didn't find him, a neighbor did, and THEN robotic cameras picked up a thermal image, but what if the neighbor hadn't noticed something "amiss" in that boat? It was handled without further injury to anyone, including additional police, but what IF?