While many people have an idea of what the average service member looks like, not many realize that some service members have four legs. From being on the front lines during World War I to detecting improvised explosive devices (IED) in Afghanistan, military working dogs (MWD) have been used to help service members win battles for generations. After years of being loyal partners, there comes a time for them to retire and become pets.

A MWD normally begins their training between the ages of 1-3. Some dogs maintain an efficient work ethic up to the ages of over 10, however others retire between the ages of 7-9 based on their overall effectiveness at working. A MWD can retire for a few reasons including age, medical conditions or an overall decrease in effectiveness. After retirement, the dog is eligible to be adopted by a previous handler.

“The adoption of a MWD is a very emotional and happy time for the previous handler when they finally get to bring their working dog home,” said Sgt. Darren Groseclose, a MWD handler with 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion. “The priority of who gets to adopt the MWD is based on time served with the MWD. For some reason, if a previous handler is unable to adopt the MWD then the Marine with the second most time served with the MWD will be eligible to adopt him/her.”

The process of adopting an MWD consists of a handful of things and can be completed from start to finish in approximately 20-30 working days.

“The biggest thing to ensure is that an MWD that was trained to bite no longer has the desire to do so,” Groseclose said. “A vet screening is done to ensure that all MWDs are fixed prior to adoption. They also include a workload of paperwork ranging from the commands authorizing the disposition of the MWD, 6 months of the MWD’s documented training records, a video of the MWD not showing aggressive behaviors and an adoption packet submitted by the adoptee.”

As a MWD waits for their adoption to be processed, they will still be taken out for physical conditioning on a daily basis. The MWD will still be seen by a vet on a monthly basis with the only difference being they won't be taken to training or team building.

“Once the MWD is officially retired, the dog goes to, what we in the MWD community call, Camp Couch - their forever home,” Groseclose said. “As far as responsibilities for the adopter, giving the MWD a loving home and caring for it is all that is required.”