IT STARTED WITH ONE DOG – MWD HOWARD
We started out as a small group of 5 civilians who met on Facebook while trying to help a handler reunite with his dog. There were four of us in the United States, and one in Australia. Now we have grown to 18 after adding handlers and some of their family members. We volunteer our time and do not accept funding for our efforts. We aren’t controlled by governing boards or fundraising. Our initial focus was reuniting Army handlers with their military working dogs, and later led to further investigation so that those responsible for the mishandling would be held accountable.
In addition to helping former Army handlers find their Tactical Explosive Detector (TEDD) military working dogs, we are also helping former Marine handlers find their Improvised Explosive Device Detector (IDD) dogs.
In October 2015, our small team met online while supporting the Bring Howard Home campaign on Facebook. Along with 33,000 other supporters of the page, we cheered on former TEDD handler Alex Reimer’s efforts to get his brown & white pitbull MWD Howard T453 back. Ball-crazy Howard had been pulled from The Animal Protection League in Anderson, Indiana, before being trained to detect explosives. He had two handlers.
Howard’s first handler Reimer had found photographs online of Howard tied to a tree in the yard of Deon Fuller, a former Taylortown officer then working for the Hoke County Sheriff’s Department. There were also photos of Howard muzzled in a small crate with another dog. Reimer felt the dog looked malnourished and was being mistreated. He attempted to adopt the dog from Fuller and initiated a social media campaign in his efforts to reclaim the dog. In October, Fuller was relieved of his law enforcement duties — in his opinion, a direct consequence of the custody battle — and despite his belief that the dog was treated well and legally adopted, he returned Howard to Reimer right before Thanksgiving 2015. Howard is now living the retirement life he deserves, and Reimer is keeping in contact with his last handler, too.
MORE HANDLERS NOT GIVEN OPPORTUNITY TO ADOPT
During that time, we discovered that this adoption mess involved more than just MWD Howard, but we made sure that Howard was safe with his handler Alex before proceeding. We had learned that five other dogs were also adopted by the Taylortown Police Department in North Carolina, and that Deon Fuller and Schirra Johnson picked them up. Taylortown Mayor Ulysses Barrett was quoted saying that the town “never sanctioned acquiring any police dogs.” “At that time, Johnson was the police chief and Fuller was an officer. They were told that we do not need these dogs. The adoption was not to the town but was a personal thing with them.”
It was important to us that we help as many handlers find their dogs as possible.
Since starting our group on Facebook in December 2015, we have established contact with the handlers of the five Taylortown dogs and 100+ other handlers looking for their battle buddies. Many dogs had multiple handlers.
BACKGROUND ON THE TEDD ADOPTIONS
The TEDD dogs were owned by the US Army, which began utilizing Davis-Paige Management Systems as the primary contractor and K2 Solutions as the subcontractor in February 2013. Due to the drawdown in Afghanistan, the Army decided to end its TEDD program. In February 2014, adoption events were held at K2 Solutions in Jackson Springs, North Carolina – but the adoptions were handled and approved by the Army’s Office of the Provost Marshal General.
Davis-Paige Management Systems had not paid K2 for their work as subcontractor and would later be successfully sued by K2. Because Davis-Paige Management Systems still owed K2 a substantial amount of money, K2 did not extend their contract for the TEDD program in February 2014. This forced a quick end with the OPMG’s Richard Vargus and Robert Squires (a Wyle contractor/TEDD Coordinator LNO) scrambling to adopt out the remaining 150 dogs. Squires texted his sister-in-law who helped generate a great deal of public interest in the dogs.
Even though OPMG staff had promised handlers that they would be contacted when adoption was an option and some handlers had submitted paperwork, the vast majority were not notified of their dogs being available for adoption as is required by Robby’s Law, Title 10 US Code § 2583. Very few handlers received notification about the adoptions, even though the adoption paperwork we have found through Freedom of Information Act requests proves that the OPMG stated the handlers had First Right of Refusal in the adoption paperwork used.
Essentially anyone with a pulse was given a dog – without any credentials needed for law enforcement or agencies. Those running the adoptions didn’t require a home visit like Lackland Air Force Base’s program mandates, and they didn’t verify that the typical adopter requirements were met. Adoptions of MWDs at Lackland take a considerable time, and the majority of civilians adopting TEDDs were able to do everything onsite in one day. They completed and submitted an adoption application to the OPMG staff present at K2, signed a liability release form, and paid a $5 fee to the onsite public notary before picking out a dog to take home. We discovered that over 20 dogs were adopted to civilian families in North Carolina. Many of these families are not willing to give the dogs to their handlers, allow handlers to visit them or even send photos/updates. Some families are now hiding their information. Some handlers found their dogs on Facebook within weeks of the adoptions, but the families would not return their dogs. Some families asked for information about the dogs they had adopted, then cut off communication once receiving it. A few families have searched for handlers to at least share updates and photos. We thank those outstanding families who recognized the incredible bond between handler and MWD and graciously allowed their adopted pet to live out their life with his or her handler.
Dogs were adopted by people involved with the adoptions, including numerous K2 employees and an MP with OPMG. Some police departments realized that the bomb-sniffing dogs couldn’t be used for narcotics detection (and they had been told this at K2 but took dogs anyway), and gave the dogs to deputies or others. We know that one dog was given to a woman who returned her first MWD to his handler, and at least one MWD was killed when a gate was left open. While we do not know how the dogs are treated, we have seen photos where some dogs appear to be spoiled by their adoptive families.
Handlers have shared with us that they were told their dogs were adopted by other handlers or transferred to other agencies, but that it wasn’t true. Handler Ryan Henderson was severely injured while in Afghanistan and should have been given his dog Satan T383 after submitting the adoption paperwork. This did not happen, and he was told the dog was adopted by a second handler when the MWD was, in fact, adopted to a family. Some handlers have been fortunate to get their dogs back. Thankfully, Satan’s adoptive family eventually gave him to Ryan in July 2017 after a custody battle.
While we understand that some handlers are not able to provide a home for their dog at this time, but we would like for the families to at least communicate with the handlers – providing updates, photos, and even visits would mean the world to these handlers.
Dogs were also adopted to law enforcement, one of which was the Taylortown Police Department. Somehow this tiny town of less than 1,000 citizens was able to adopt 6 TEDDs, including Howard. This is something that needs to be investigated further.
Soliden Technologies took 13 MWDs telling OPMG that they would be used to train for disabled veterans, but they actually dumped them at a Virginia kennel while attempting to sell the dogs to the government of Panama and other countries. Two men, Dean Henderson and Jaime Solis, claimed to be Secret Service agents.
The kennel owner was left with $150,000 of unpaid kennel bills.
One dog, Dakota, is still missing after being given to a Michigan vet tech hired by Soliden. She claims to have treated Dakota for medical issues, but entered her into several airdog contests. She also claims to have returned Dakota to Jaime Solis, but will not respond further to us.
Contractor DynCorp ended up working at least 3 MWDs after the US State Department acquired them – these dogs are currently working in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, we want the dogs to be reunited with their handlers if possible. We are helping with an investigation of what happened so that this doesn’t happen to our veterans again. We want to make sure that contractors like Davis-Paige Management Systems and Soliden Technologies do not have access to contracts where they have no experience with military working dogs.
Our mission has grown and now we are trying to reunite as many TEDD dogs with their prior handlers as possible. We are also trying to make sure those responsible are held accountable. Some dogs were appropriately transferred to other military locations, government agencies, and law enforcement, but we would still like to at least get updates on the dogs for their handlers. Ideally, we would appreciate the TEDD handlers to be considered for adoption when the dogs are retired.
In September 2016, the Air Force submitted a report to the House Armed Services Committee as mandated by the pending NDAA for 2017. In March 2017, we submitted a rebuttal to the Air Force report. A separate Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office assessment began in 2016 and was released on March 1, 2018. The assessment confirmed that the Army botched the adoptions for the TEDD military working dogs at the end of the program. Unfortunately, not everything we uncovered was included in the report. Please visit http://www.facebook.com/Justice4TEDDs to help support these handlers, and: