Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Some Bills before Congress Will Help Dogs, Some Will Help National Security, but Some Seem Designed to Help Special Interests

One should periodically review what Congress is up to with regard to one’s interests, and even though many proposals regarding dogs are going nowhere, either because it is an election year or because some ideas are poorly conceived or drafted, certain trends can be detected.  The strongest trend evident in current proposals regarding dogs is a willingness of Congress to hand over responsibility for canine issues to private contractors and organizations.  Sometimes this is evident on the face of the legislation, but sometimes one must consider where the Senator or Congressman is from, and what constituents in his or her jurisdiction would benefit.  Other times it is not inappropriate to speculate about who may have assisted a legislator’s staff in drafting a proposal. 

Concomitant with the preference of certain members of Congress to privatize canine functions may be a tendency to assume that the welfare of working animals will be adequately protected by the private sector and non-federal agencies.  Legislation dealing with retired military working dogs, while admirable, will often not apply to contract working dogs owned by independent companies in the business of supplying dogs and handlers for military and security purposes.  While some organizations make appropriate provision for retiring dogs, I believe that there are cases where dogs are not being placed or appropriately protected at the end of their careers.  This too should be of concern to Congress, yet no such concern is reflected in current legislative initiatives.    

So here’s a brief snapshot of what’s now on the Congressional plate with regard to dogs.

Military and Security Proposals

H.R. 1900, the Surface Transportation and Mass Transit Security Act of 2011, provides that the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, consulting with the Under Secretary for Science and Technology, may conduct a demonstration project in a passenger rail system to test technologies that would strengthen security of passenger rail systems.  This could include the use of dogs to detect improvised explosive devices. 

Also, and most important, the number of canine teams certified by the Transportation Security Administration is to be increased by 200, with $75,000 to be provided for each canine team deployed, requiring an appropriation of $15 million.  Specifically, the bill would require expanding “the use of canine teams trained to detect vapor wave trails in passenger rail and public transportation security environments….”

The Comptroller General is to submit a report to Congress on “the capacity of the national explosive detection canine team program as a whole.” The bill was introduced by Democratic Representative Sheila Lee of Texas, who also introduced House Resolution 28 (January 7, 2011), which encourages TSA to “continue development of the National Explosives Detection Team Program, which has proven to be an effective tool in securing against explosives threats to our Nation’s rail and mass transit systems, with particular attention to the application of its training standards and the establishment of a reliable source of domestically bred canines.” 

This may in part be a reference to the fact that the most popular breed at the moment for bomb dog work is the Belgian Malinois, and some agencies prefer to get them from European breeders. This is largely driven by economics because many imported dogs have already undergone significant training, which can include basic obedience, tracking, apprehension and attack work, and even detection training.  Starting with this level of training often saves the training companies a great deal of expense.  The intent of the legislation is appropriate, but at least in the short term it is likely to result in additional expense for some acquiring agencies. 

H.R. 1299, the Secure Border Act of 2011, would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to report to Congress the “number of canine and agricultural officers assigned” to each port of entry.  Within six months of enactment, the Secretary of Homeland Security would be required to “develop metrics to measure the effectiveness of security at ports of entry, which shall consider … [t]he required number of … Canine Enforcement Officers necessary to achieve operational control at such ports of entry.”  The bill was introduced by Republican Representative Candice Miller of Michigan, whose district abuts Canada.

H.R. 3011, the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act of 2011, has provisions regarding explosive detection canine teams for aviation and air cargo security.  The bill provides that the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security “shall ensure that by the end of 2013 at least 100 explosives detection canine teams are used for passenger screening purposes at large airports in the United States….”  The dogs can be used “to resolve screening anomalies,” such as something suspicious detected during a full-body scan. The bill authorizes the appropriation of $25 million for this purpose. 

In providing for air cargo security, the bill specifically provides for leveraging “third-party explosives detection canine assets … for screening air cargo that can be used by air carriers, foreign air carriers, freight forwarders, and shippers and that meet certification standards of the Administration, as determined by the Assistant Secretary.”  A third-part explosives detection canine asset is “any explosives detection canine or handler that is not owned or employed by the Administration.” 

For mass transit systems, the number of canine teams certified by TSA is to be increased by “not less than 200 canine teams,” with $75,000 in assistance to be provided for each team.  The bill specifies that TSA must “expand the use of canine teams trained to detect explosives based on methods other than traditional explosives detection training techniques.” It is not clear whether this is a reference to vapor wake detection, but it is to be noted that the bill was introduced by Republican Representative Mike D. Waters of Alabama, whose district includes Auburn University, where vapor wake detection research is a priority and a source of revenue.   

Research is also contemplated and $1 million is appropriated for two years so that “the Assistant Secretary, in coordination with the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology, shall develop and implement a basic research and applied research and development program for the purpose of advancing the scientific understanding and applicability of canine explosives detection assets in the transportation environment.”  Auburn would have to be regarded as a good candidate for such a grant, but there are others. 

H.R. 4103, the Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act, would provide that the Secretary of Defense is to classify military working dogs as canine members of the armed forces, and not as equipment.  If a dog reaches the age of retirement and it has not been adopted, it is to be transferred to the 341st Training Squadron.  Veterinary care is to be provided to retired military working dogs.  The bill was introduced by Republican Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina.  S. 2134 is the Senate version of this proposal.

This is a good idea, though it only has 12 sponsors at the moment.  Also, it does not protect contract working dogs on retirement. Rumors I have been unable to substantiate suggest the possibility that some current contractors are making little or no effort to redeploy older dogs or those that fail certifications, or allow them to enjoy any retirement whatsoever.

S. 722, introduced by Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, the Secure Facilities Act of 2011, provides that the Director of the Federal Protective Service is to increase by up to 15 canine teams the number of infrastructure security canine teams.  This increase could be achieved by one of three possible means:

“(A) partnering with the Customs and Border Protection Canine Enforcement Program and the Canine Training Center Front Royal, the Transportation Security Administration's National Explosives Detection Canine Team Training Center, or other offices or agencies within the Department with established canine training programs;
(B) partnering with agencies, State or local government agencies, nonprofit organizations, universities, or the private sector to increase the training capacity for canine detection teams; or
(C) procuring explosives detection canines trained by nonprofit organizations, universities, or the private sector, if the canines are trained in a manner consistent with the standards and requirements developed under subsection (b) or other criteria developed by the Secretary.”

Criteria for infrastructure security canine teams may involve standards set by private sector programs.  Unlike some other proposals, this one does not try to avoid use of federal training facilities. 

Proposals Regarding Veterans

H.R. 943, the K-9 Companion Corps Act, would provide funds to non-profit organizations for “planning, designing, establishing, and operating programs to provide assistance dogs to covered members and veterans.”  The proposal contemplates that assistance dogs would be provided to veterans suffering from:

(A) Blindness or visual impairment.
(B) Loss of use of a limb, paralysis, or other significant mobility issues.
(C) Loss of hearing.
(D) Traumatic brain injury.
(E) Post-traumatic stress disorder.
(F) Any other disability that the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs consider appropriate.

Organizations applying for grant money would have be required to have “recognized expertise” in breeding and training assistance dogs, and would have to describe their experience in “working with military medical treatment facilities or medical facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”  An assistance dog is defined as “a dog specially trained to perform physical tasks to mitigate the effects of” one of the disabilities listed above.  The dogs would be provided to active members of the military receiving “medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy,” and to veterans receiving treatment.  Up to $5 million would be authorized for this program.  The bill was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Mazie Keio Hirono of Hawaii. 

The Congresswoman may have been influenced by some organizations whose philosophy is that service animals should perform tasks and cannot qualify as such if they only “do work,” as accepted in Department of Justice regulations defining “service animal.”  On the other hand, the language in the proposal may only be designed to preclude the use of funds for emotional support animals.  The bill has attracted 23 cosponsors, indicating some traction, though probably not enough to advance in the current session. 

H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (PL 112-81), which has become law, contains a provision that allows the Defense Department to make available to a deceased handler’s family the military working dog which he had handled.  The dog may be given to a parent, child, spouse, or sibling of the deceased handler.  MWDs may also be given to their wounded handlers if the Department determines to do so, but if the handler is alive, the dog may not be given to a family member.  

H.R. 2074, the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention and Health Care Enhancement Act, would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to implement a three-year pilot program to assess the effectiveness of using dog training activities as a component of integrated post-deployment mental health and PTSD rehabilitation programs offered by the VA. 

The Secretary is to select a VA medical center for this program, which cannot be in the VA Palo Alto health care system. In designing the program, recommendations published by Assistance Dogs International, the International Guide Dog Federation, “or comparably recognized experts in the art and science of basic dog training with regard to space, equipments, and methodologies.”  Partnerships are to be established with these two programs, as well as “academic affiliates, or organizations with equivalent credentials with experience in teaching others to train service dogs….” It is not clear who will determine what experts are “comparably recognized” or what organizations have “equivalent credentials.”  Since the VA is looking to the external organizations for guidance, it would presumably be up to those organizations to acknowledge who belongs in their class.  One wonders if anyone not directly affiliated would be found to be so.  Temperament criteria for dogs are to be taken from ADI and IGDF.  The legislation was introduced by Republican Representative Ann Marie Buerkle of New York.  The Senate version of this proposal is S. 1838.

H.R. 198, the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act, was discussed in a prior blog.  The bill has acquired 98 sponsors but has been stuck in the Committee of Veterans Affairs for over a year. 

General Proposals

S. 707, the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act, provides that the Secretary of Agriculture is to promulgate standards for dealers “that include requirements for the exercise of dogs at facilities owned or operated by a dealer.”  The rules would apply to all dogs at least 12 weeks old, and is not to include “forced activity (other than a forced activity used for veterinary treatment) or other physical activity that is repetitive, restrictive of other activities, solitary, and goal-oriented.”  The area provided for such exercise is to be “separate from the primary enclosure if the primary enclosure does not provide sufficient space to achieve a running stride,” and is to be sufficiently large for dogs to get exercise, i.e., to run around a bit. Certain kinds of flooring that would be unsafe for dogs are to be prohibited.  State laws that provide additional or greater protections for dogs are not preempted.  The bill was introduced by Republican Representative Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania. 

H.R. 2256, the Pet Safety and Protection Act of 2011, is designed “to ensure that all dogs and cats used by research facilities are obtained legally.”  Dogs and cats used in research must be obtained from a dealer, a pound or shelter, a person who bred and raised the animal or owned it for at least a year, and certain research facilities. This would apparently preclude people from rounding up their neighbors’ pets and donating them to research facilities, though if someone claimed to have had the animal for more than a year, it is not certain how the lie would be determined.  It appears to be well intended.  The bill was introduced by Republican Representative Michael F. Doyle of Pennsylvania.     

H.R. 1878, which would give public transportation access to trainers of service dogs, was discussed in a prior blog


Big winners, if legislative proposals before Congress were enacted, would be Auburn University’s trademarked vapor wake detection system (H.R. 1900, probably H.R. 3011, though the latter may be beneficial to a broader range of private institutions), and Assistance Dogs International and the International Guide Dog Federation (H.R. 943, H.R. 2074, S. 1838).  

I should note that I have the greatest respect for the latter two organizations, but delegating governmental responsibilities to umbrella organizations is too easy a way for government to avoid responsibilities altogether.  Also, with respect to non-guide service dogs, the Army, VA, and now Representative Buerkle, seem not to want to see that the umbrella is not broad enough to cover those with a great need for service animals.  

I also have great respect for Auburn University’s canine research, but like my father (who was an agricultural scientist) and my uncle (who spent most of his life in the Agronomy Department at Auburn), I am suspicious of the commercialization of research results.  Since it can bias the research, there should be an independent evaluation of the research and the validity of its commercial application.  That evaluation should not merely be a summary of field reports from handlers whose claims are necessarily biased by the fact that their employment depends on the success of an approach. 

Big losers, if some of the Bills become law, would be canine training programs already developed by the military and active-duty Army personnel and veterans who cannot get access to assistance dogs through channels approved by the military and the VA.  Dogs in general would benefit from exercise requirements placed on dealers, and limitations on the sources of animals for research, but a question that would remain open some time will be the level of enforcement that can be implemented by the Department of Agriculture, something discussed previously

H.R. 1540, allowing wounded handlers or the families of deceased handlers to obtain the military working dogs is now law (10 U.S.C. 2583).  Time will tell how many handlers and families are able to get dogs, since the military must approve a transfer.  Certainly dogs nearing the end of their useful lives should not present issues for the military, and giving a dog to a family that has lost a member will be some comfort that should not be denied. A similar requirement should be considered for contract working dogs.   

Overall, the proposed legislation, most of which will go nowhere in this election year, shows a trend towards privatizing canine responsibilities and activities.  Although this may be cost-effective, it comes with the price that neither the government nor the public will necessarily know very much about the implementation of a program, and Congress will effectively delegate oversight, at least until some flaw in a program blows up in a public manner.    

Thanks to L.E. Papet and Debbie Kandoll for thoughts on a draft of this blog. 

No comments:

Post a Comment