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Friday, October 17, 2008

Rescue Ratchet

Army Sgt. Gwen Beberg of Minneapolis is ready to return home from duty, but she was hoping she wouldn’t be heading back alone. While serving in Iraq, Beberg had befriended and adopted a stray puppy named Ratchet. But the military snatched Ratchet before the pup could reach the Baghdad International Airport to catch a flight bound for the United States.

Ratchet2 Ratchet is now in the media spotlight, but it’s not just about one black-and-white mutt—it’s about a recurring problem at the Department of Defense. Although there is a deep bond between soldiers and pets, and a broad-minded concern for abandoned and orphaned animals in war zones, there are institutional policies that fail to reflect that concern.

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International have been leaning on the military for years to stop treating pets like enemies of the state, and to embrace more animal friendly policies. Under current military policy, American soldiers are forbidden from adopting a stray animal they befriended in Iraq. Pet and stray dogs are frequently killed in an attempt to prevent rabies although research finds that these culls are both ineffective and inhumane. And the Uniform Code of Military Justice doesn’t include any prohibition or punishment for cruelty to animals. 

Fortunately, Ratchet has friends in high places, and Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) all appealed to the Department of Defense on the pup’s behalf. It appears that the lawmakers and the overwhelming public opinion have succeeded, and Ratchet will soon be on his way home. Congressional pressure can make a big difference, as it did when Congressmen Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.) helped to rescue Iraqi dogs last year.

But we shouldn’t have to rely on public outcry and congressional action every single time an individual dog and soldier are separated. At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we’re going to keep pushing this issue forward until we have won the military over to the idea of giving soldiers some kind of lawful option to bring animals home, one animal per soldier, if they can demonstrate that the dog or cat is truly a pet and is disease-free.

Please contact the Department of Defense and tell them we must have a better policy that recognizes the deep bond between soldiers and pets—for all the dogs like Ratchet, and all the men and women who serve our country.

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