Agencies must do more to protect their canine workforce from abuse and neglect, says GAO

Federal agencies must adopt stricter policies to ensure the dogs they employ and those of federal contractors are not abused, neglected or otherwise overworked, a congressional watchdog said last week.

The Government Accountability Office has published a report on health and welfare of the federal canine workforce both at the agencies and at the subcontractors. While federal agencies that employ dogs largely have policies addressing the majority of relevant issues to ensure animals are treated humanely and receive proper care, federal agencies and contractors lag behind on a few issues. keys.

According to the GAO, approximately half of federally run in-house working dog programs do not have policies addressing abuse and neglect or requirements regarding rest and shift times for working dogs. work in service. And about half of contracts with private companies for working dogs do not include requirements for dealing with abuse and neglect or how to handle decisions to retire or euthanize working dogs.

A total of 40 federal agencies use dogs in the course of their work, whether it is explosive or drug detection, passenger screening, patrol, wildlife management or search and rescue. Of the approximately 5,100 dogs managed by the federal government in February 2022, more than half were employed by the Department of Homeland Security, which has about 2,900 dogs, followed by the Department of Defense, which employs nearly 1,800 dogs. .

The GAO has identified 18 issues that experts say organizations employing working dogs should have comprehensive policies on: abuse and neglect, emergency medical care, euthanasia, exercise, food and water, grooming, dog training. health and welfare, housing, post-retirement medical needs, medical records, medications, purchases, rest and length of service, retirement, routine veterinary care, wellness assessments routine, sanitation and transportation.

On average, agencies demonstrated that they had policies covering 15 of 18 issues, while the average for federal contractors was only 11 of 18.

The areas where agencies fell furthest behind best practices were in abuse and neglect, and rest and length of service time. Only 22 of 40 agencies offering canine programs had policies governing abuse and neglect, while 17 of 40 agencies had procedures in place regarding the length of time dogs spent on duty and mandating rest for working dogs.

Agencies often justified the lack of policy governing a particular issue by saying that it was covered by a broader federal labor or management policy, or that the government’s responsibility for a dog ends when the dog retires and is adopted by a private home. But the GAO argued that having comprehensive policies governing the 18 key issues for working dog management helps prevent incidents of abuse or neglect.

“One program said their existing employee misconduct policies were sufficient to address cases of abuse and neglect,” the GAO wrote. “Some agency officials have reported that their policies do not address rest and length of duty time because the needs of working dogs vary too much by climate, type of activity and other factors to that the policy adequately addresses this issue.”

“However, without overarching policies, agencies cannot guarantee the humane treatment and optimal performance of their working dogs or ensure that officials perform certain actions, such as retirement and euthanasia, consistently,” says The report. “Comprehensive policies can clearly set out standards and delineate responsibilities and, in doing so, help management ensure that important activities, such as the provision of routine medical care or the treatment of retired dogs, are carried out in accordance with established standards.”

The GAO recommended that all agencies that employ working dogs revise their policies governing these programs to include policies for the 18 issues highlighted by the monitoring agency, and that all agencies that contract with companies companies for the use of working dogs do the same the next time these contracts. are to be renewed.

Almost all of the agencies studied in the report agreed with the recommendations, with the exception of the Department of Energy.

“For both recommendations, the department has indicated that it will evaluate the 18 issues that the GAO has identified as important to the health and welfare of working dogs to determine their applicability to the DOE canine program and issue a clarification. of the policy to address areas that the DOE determines are applicable,” GAO wrote.[We] agree that the Department has some flexibility in determining which of the 18 issues will be addressed in future contracts. However, with respect to our recommendation to ministry agencies with federally run working dog programs, we continue to believe that addressing all 18 issues is important to ensure humane treatment and optimal performance of federal working dogs.

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