Why does the U.S. government allow foreign countries to treat highly trained American anti-terrorism investigators like dogs?

They are dogs — but that’s beside the point because they also are bomb detection experts.

Consider the case of Athena, a 2-year-old female Belgian Malinois — a breed known for its strong work ethic — sent to Jordan in May 2017. Less than a year later, a State Department veterinary team found her “severely emaciated” and living in a filthy kennel littered with feces, according to a report by the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

After being sent back to the United States, Athena was properly fed and nursed back to health, and made a full recovery. 

Mencey was not as fortunate. The 3-year-old male Belgian Malinois fell seriously ill with a tick-borne disease in February 2018, seven months after arriving in Jordan. He was sent back to the States, where he was diagnosed with an ailment transmitted by sand flies that caused renal failure. Mencey was euthanized.

These are two examples from the inspector general’s probe into a whistleblower’s hotline allegations that explosive detection canines provided to foreign nations were dying because of poor health care and shoddy living and working conditions. 

Inspectors found those conditions — particularly in Jordan — were abetted by sloppy oversight by the State Department. 

The department “has expended millions of dollars in antiterrorism assistance funds for the [canine program], but it does not ensure the health and welfare of the dogs after deployment,” OIG found. “This threatens the dogs’ ability to properly perform detection work and also creates risks to their well-being.”

It urged a halt to the supply of detection dogs to Jordan. State refused, citing national security concerns.

“OIG found an overall lack of policies and standards governing the program,” said the report, issued last week. “The Department routinely provides dogs to foreign partners without signed written agreements that outline standards for minimum care, retirement, and use of the canines, and the Department conducts health and welfare follow-ups infrequently and inconsistently.”

The canine program is part of the government’s international fight against terrorism. It includes providing training, personnel and resources to other governments. Trained bomb detection dogs have been part of the effort for 20 years. The training is conducted at State’s Canine Validation Center in Winchester, Va., about 75 miles west of the District. 

“Canines are one of the best means of detecting explosives and deterring terrorism,” according to the report, but not if they are treated poorly. Poor treatment leads to poor performance. “They are also living creatures that deserve appropriate attention to their safety and well-being,” the report added.

As of a year ago, more than 160 dogs, including those supplied by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were working in 10 foreign countries. That’s an estimate because the report says investigators were “unable to determine the exact number of canines due to insufficient and contradictory documentation.” State “did not produce any written policies, procedures, or written standards of care” requested by the inspector general’s office until a draft of its report was completed.

Jordan, with 89 dogs, is the largest and most offensive partner. With a canine program in “dire straits,” at least 10 dogs died from 2008 through 2016 of various medical conditions. A State Department team found the police in Jordan “are losing canines frequently to the [parvovirus] disease and do not have the medical care required to treat it, or even maintain healthy canines.”

State provided some help. In 2017, its Office of Antiterrorism Assistance sent two mentors to assist the Jordanians for three years, at a cost of $500,000 annually. Last year, a veterinarian and a veterinary technician were assigned to Jordan at a cost of $540,000 for one year. Nonetheless, in Athena’s case, her “health went unnoticed” by two mentors, until a U.S. veterinary team sounded the alarm. 

“OIG remains concerned that Jordan is not able or willing to provide adequate care for working dogs without the Department’s intervention,” the report said, and “the Department has conducted minimal planning to ensure that Jordanian officials can maintain the health and welfare of the dogs for the duration of their lives.” 

The inspector general urged the U.S. government to stop providing dogs to Jordan until a sufficient plan is implemented to ensure their health and welfare. State agreed with other inspector general recommendations, but not that one. 

“National security related efforts focused on protecting American interests and assisting Jordan in combatting active terrorist threats would be negatively impacted by such a move,” two State officials, Michael T. Evanoff and Nathan A. Sales, wrote in a memo to Inspector General Steve Linick.

The Jordanian Embassy had no comment. 

State said it takes the report “very seriously” and “has taken steps to resolve the OIG’s recommendations.” Although State contends that the health and welfare of the dogs in Jordan has improved, the inspector general was blunt:

“The dogs are still at risk.”