Sean_Nathanfinalphoto-570It was a private reunion held late at night in the cargo terminal of Newark Liberty International Airport the day after Christmas last December.  There was no flag-waving by gathered family and friends – just a lone Army staff sergeant waiting while a terminal attendant cut the nylon ties that sealed a crate – a crate that held his beloved friend.  As the ties fell away and with the mere calling of his name, Navy Chief Nathan bounded out of his crate and into the arms of Staff Sergeant Sean Harrigan. They were together again.

European-born German Shepherd Nathan began his service to our country after undergoing a year of training in Italy as a Military Working Dog, or MWD.  For the nine years following his successful completion of that training, he saw continuous service in India, Kuwait, Europe, Iraq, and Bahrain as a hunter of Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs.  It was in Bahrain that he and his new handler SSG Harrigan began the year-long partnership that inexorably bound them for the rest of their lives.

Nathan and his fellow explosive-detecting MWDs, capable of a 98% bomb detection rate, were trained to sniff out minuscule amounts of a wide-range of explosives while searching entry points, patrolling within secure installations and at checkpoints.  According to SSG Harrigan, Nathan’s job-specific modus operandum was to retreat five feet from a device he had detected, lie down facing the potential killer, and await its disposal.  When asked how many such finds Nathan had detected, the simple answer was “countless.”

Prior to 2000, Military War Dogs were euthanized at the end of their useful working lives.  That practice was abolished in November of that year when former President Bill Clinton signed H.R. Bill 5314, which immediately facilitated adoption of the canine war heroes.  Thus, after his retirement, Nathan remained at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Sicily, awaiting approval of SSG Harrigan’s efforts to bring him home to Dingmans Ferry.

After the clearing of the red tape, the only remaining obstacle to his homecoming was the payment of $602 in transportation fees.  Stepping up with donations to clear the way were three local area veterans organizations: VetStock, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, and the Marsch-Kellogg American Post 139 (through its Benevolent Fund), all of which are unwavering in their commitment to improve the lives of our area’s former and present Armed Services men, women, and families.

These days, Nathan can sometimes be found at the American Legion Post 139 in Milford, Pike County, where, in recognition of his undying service to his country, Legion members continue to honor him with the permanent installation of a doggie bed and an endless supply of treats, ear-scratching, and head pats.

It would be difficult to find a more appropriate characterization of Nathan’s service and devotion than the following by Naturalist and Crusader Ernest Harold Baynes who wrote:


“Of all the animals that have come into the service of mankind, the dog is preeminent in intelligence.  But that isn’t all:  He is more than intelligent, for he is inspired by the love that merges into deathless devotion.

He is more than burden bearer, more than toy, more than companion; he fills posts of human responsibility, his integrity is unassailable, his loyal supreme.

‘The more I see of men,’ said Frederick the Great, ‘the better I like dogs.’ And today there are those who hold that, in accepting the company of men, the dog certainly condescended to a mesalliance.”


Department of Defense Military Working Dog Adoption Program

american flag ILLBlur-570Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why are these dogs available for adoption?

Most of our dogs that become available for adoption are relatively young dogs that have failed to meet training standards, while others are older dogs that have completed their service and are being made available for adoption.  Still others are being medically retired from service due to injury or sickness that will preclude them from performing the mission.  Additionally, dogs who have served as Contract Working Dogs or CWDs utilized by contractors primarily in Kuwait are consistently available for adoption through the United States War Dog Association.

  1. Is any priority given to veterans or other persons?

Congressional Military Working Dog adoption law gives priority first to prior handlers, then civilian Law Enforcement Agencies, and finally to the general public.  Better than 90% of former MWDs are adopted by their handlers.

  1. Can our company or business adopt a dog and use it for security work or detection work?

All dogs that are transferred to Law Enforcement Agencies are done so with a contractual agreement which stipulates that the dog belongs to the department.  Only Law Enforcement Agencies are charged under statute with enforcing laws and are thus able to apply for an available dog.   All dogs adopted to private parties are done so on a separate agreement that includes stipulations that the dog is not allowed to perform patrol or security work, either public or private, nor will it be allowed to perform any substance detection work, either public or private.  The DoD representative responsible for placing the dog retains the choice as to the fitness of any retired dog for any home or agency.

  1. Where are the dogs located?

Two programs exist.  Dogs that have been/are assigned to bases around the globe are adopted (when approved for retirement/ separation) from the location where they are assigned.  The Kennel Master at that base is the person who best knows the status of their assigned K9 Heroes.  Keep in mind that quite often former handlers, with priority rights under Public Law, adopt their former comrades.  Also, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, sometimes has promising dogs available for adoption, but not always.

  1. What can you tell me about the dogs?

All our Military Working Dogs are trained at Lackland Air Force Base and then sent to operational units throughout the DOD.  The dogs are usually a German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retriever, and occasionally a mixed breed or other sporting/herding breed dog.  They range in age from one to 13 years, and include both males and females, although they are spayed or neutered before being adopted.

  1. How long can I expect to wait to be able to adopt one of your dogs?

Due to very strong public interest in adopting retired Military Working Dogs after their period of service to our nation, we are obliged to process and prioritize in excess of a thousand applications every year.  Because so many people are “queuing up” to adopt a relatively small number of available dogs, prospective Military Working Dog adopters can expect delays up to, and often beyond six months before a dog is available for them.  We follow the “first come, first served rule,” so that when a suitable dog becomes available, we offer that dog to the party that has waited longest.  If you are interested in adopting a Military Working Dog into your family, we encourage you to get your application in and we will schedule you for a dog as soon as we can.  However, be prepared for a long wait due to the community’s high interest in our adoption program.  Once we set you up with an appointment to meet our adoptable dogs, please be considerate of other eager adoptive families.   If you need to cancel, please do so as early as possible so we can fill the appointment with another applicant.

  1. What happens once I get an appointment to go to Lackland Air Force base, near San Antonio, TX to meet/adopt one of your dogs?

Once you have your appointment, expect to make at least two visits, normally two consecutive days.  On the first day, about one hour is needed to review your application and then to greet the dog(s).  Once you’ve selected a dog, we’ll need time to get the dog ready for adoption, and our veterinary clinic will need time to get the dog ready for departure.  Your dog should be ready to depart with you on the second day; however, sometimes issues arise that are outside the control of the adoption administrator and we ask for your patience and understanding.

  1. Will I be able to select the sex or breed or age of dog that I prefer?

We will do our best to match our available dogs with your preferences in terms of breed, gender, color, etc., but cannot guarantee that we will have a dog that will exactly match your desires. Please remember that no matter what their type, sex or color, these retired Military Working Dogs were selected by the DoD for their stable and outgoing temperaments.  They make wonderful companions and deserve great homes.

  1. Can you give me an overview of the Adoption Process?

The MWD Adoption Process starts when you submit a completed application.  Once we receive the completed application, you will receive a confirmation, normally by email that it has been received.  Your application will be kept on file in order of the date of receipt.  If questions arise when going over your application, we will usually email or telephone you for clarification.  As we schedule each month’s appointments, we’ll start with the oldest applications first.  Those who decline a scheduled appointment will be removed from the list of applications. When your application is pulled, you’ll be contacted about possible dates available within the time frame being filled, usually a calendar month.  About thirty days before your appointment, you should
receive a courtesy phone call or email seeking confirmation of your appointment and indicating information needed for a base pass, if it is required.  If you do not reply to this courtesy e-mail or phone call, we will be forced to give your appointment to somebody else, and your application will be deleted from our waiting list.

On the day of your appointment, please plan to arrive at the gate early to obtain your pass.  You will need a current driver’s license, proof of vehicle insurance, and current registration.  Once you arrive at the kennel facility, we’ll show dogs that are well suited to your interest/ability and home life.  Once you’ve selected a dog for adoption, we’ll refer the dog to the Veterinary Hospital for a departure physical, which is usually scheduled for the following day.  After the physical is completed, the Veterinary Staff will provide photocopies of applicable medical records for you to take to your animal health practitioner.  The records and dog are usually available shortly after the noon hour on this second day.  Bring a leash, suitable collar, and your driver’s license.  After you sign the indemnity agreement, you will be allowed to depart with your new family member.  This process normally takes about one hour.


The definitive source for information regarding adoption of both Military Working Dogs and Contract Working Dogs is the United States War Dog Association, Inc. (See http://www.uswardogs.org/united-states-working-dog-adoptions/.)


DogMedicalCarepic-570A free specialized Medical Care Program for retired Military Working Dogs and Contract Working Dogs is offered through the United States War Dogs Association, American Humane Association and Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Red Bank, NJ.

With healthcare costs on the rise, this program will help eliminate some of the financial burden put upon individuals and families who have adopted a retired MWD/CWD.  This is not an insurance program, but is a bona fide Specialized Medical Care Program for retired MWDs/CWDs, which will only be recognized by Red Bank Veterinary Hospitals of New Jersey.  (There are five locations: Tinton Falls, Cherry Hill, Hillsborough, Linwood, and Red Bank.  For more information on Red Bank Veterinary Hospital please visit their website at: www.rbvh.net).

To participate, complete the Specialized Medical Care Program application (available on the website at: http://www.uswardogs.org/specialized-medical-care-program-for-mwds-and-cwds/registration-form/) and submit it, along with a copy of your Retired MWDs/CWDs Adoption papers, via regular mail, email or by fax to the U.S. War Dogs Association.  Once the application and adoption papers are received, the owner and his or her dog will be entered into a database shared only with the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. (Any MWD already signed up for the Free Rx Prescription Drug Program will NOT have to sign up a second time as the required information has been previously added to the USWDA database.)

Then simply contact the United States War Dogs Association, which in turn will verify to the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital that care for your MWD/CWD is in order and has been accepted.  You will also receive a letter (which will be mailed, emailed or faxed to you) to take to the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital of your choice.

Your responsibility will be to provide your own transportation.  Specialized Medical Care will be free of charge while your dog is being cared for at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital.  The United States War Dogs Association will see that you are reimbursed for your hotel accommodations. (A list of local hotels can be found on the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital website.)

For further information please contact:

U.S. War Dogs Association, Inc.

Attn:  Ron Aiello, President

1313 Mt. Holly Road

Burlington, New Jersey 08016



Phone: 609-747-9340

Cell: 609-234-4539

Fax: 609-747-9340