Military working dogs are some of America’s hardest working service members. They find IEDs, drugs, victims of natural disasters, and dozens of other things. They also serve beside special operators and engage enemies with their human counterparts.
Unfortunately, they also live shorter lives than their humans.
That means that nearly every human handler will one day have to say goodbye to their friend and partner. The military allows handlers to go through a process that ensures the humans get one last day of bonding with their animals and the dogs receive a dignified sendoff.
First, a decision is made about who will handle the canine during their final day. This is often the current handler assigned to the dog or the person who adopted them upon their retirement, but it could also be someone who spent a long time with the animal or who bonded most strongly with them.
This handler and other service members who love the dog will spend time playing together one last time.
Then, the canine is taken for a “Final Patrol” or, sometimes, a “Final Walk.” Depending on the installation and the dog, this can be anything from a low-key walk around some of the greener parts of the base to a full-fledged parade down the base’s main drag.
Sometimes, the dogs may be too sick or old to conduct the final patrol on their own. In those circumstances, the units will arrange an escort with handlers and other people who loved and respected them.
At the end of the final patrol, a human with close ties to the dog will walk them past a final salute.
Service members line the walk to render honors to the animals who have served faithfully. This will be the last chance for many of the humans to express their gratitude.
Inside the clinic, veterinarians will begin the euthanization process while handlers comfort the dogs.
The handlers stay with the dogs until the end.
Once it is done, the dog is draped with the flag and prepared for their final rest. Usually, the dogs are cremated.
Handlers and other members of the unit will then hold a memorial ceremony with a display of a kennel, a tipped dish, a collar and leash, and sometimes the dog’s ashes.
Pvt. Kaitlin Haines, a handler with the 100th Military Working Dog Detachment and a native of Sacramento, Calif., salutes during a Feb. 9, 2015, memorial service at Miesau Chapel for Cak, a local military working dog who was put to rest in December. (Photo and cutline: Elisabeth Paqué)
The handlers then have to overcome their grief and find a new partner to work with.