Every year, numerous military and police working dogs are retired from service but very few are actually adopted. In most cases, handlers continue with the care of their retired four legged members. This allows for our furry heroic veterans to live out there lives in the company of the person they have come to know. Police dogs are normally retired at around 8 years old, although some dogs stop working a little earlier, especially if they’ve succumbed to injury.
While handling a working dog can be the rockstar job of any police or military organization, especially if one is very busy, it can also take an accelerated toll on the bodies of both handler and dog. I humbly apologize if I’ve offended anyone with this remark. Rockstar may not be the appropriate word for those who’ve never owned a dog or had interest in working one. I write this with the assumption that most handlers, of police and military dogs, obtained the passion to work a dog in the early years of life. There are many, like me, who joined an organization with the sole intent of working a dog. For those who haven’t worked alongside a dog, searching for people, risking your life, saving the occasional suicidal person or finding an elderly dementia patient, and putting the trust of a dog and your abilities to read his body language in your hands, it’s truly difficult to describe the passion, faith, and respect, that one gains not only for the dogs but the career and those who work within it.
Call of Duty
Please remember, as you read this, that police and military dogs sacrifice their lives throughout North America and overseas annually. While these working dogs are essential in locating people, and can be a force multiplier, they’re normally at the pointy end of the stick so to speak. This means that when a dog is tracking (wearing a tracking harness while attached to a 20, 30, or 50 foot leash depending upon region), he may be a considerable controlled distance ahead of his handler and fellow brothers and sisters in uniform. I have personally seen where my dog has taken the brunt of the force that would have been directed to me. He’s obviously saved me from grievous bodily harm in certain encounters with dangerously motivated offenders. I jokingly say certain cases because I do recall a night in which I fell down a cliff with my dog in the wee hours of the night…thank God for small trees to break my fall.
Needless to say, sacrifices are made by both dog and handler.
Military and police working dogs are highly trained animals that serve their country alongside their handlers. These dogs are true heroes that are regularly asked to risk their well being in order to preserve the lives of their handlers and fellow police or military personnel. These wonderful dogs are put in dangerous environments and are trained to respond to their handlers instructions with an absolute obedience that’s second to none. Rest assured these dogs have been exposed to months of training under the appropriate environmental conditions. When citizens and family pets run in the other direction, these working dogs get excited to take action.
When it comes to retirement, military and police dogs need very special care. In the event that a handler does not remain with his dog, potential dog owners would need to meet very specific criteria in order to qualify for adoption. I can speak from experience, as I kept the Black Dog after he retired in July. Some may question why a handler would give up his dog upon its retirement. It certainly isn’t easy to give up ones dog. With the Black Dog, I spent more time with him than my family for nearly eight years. Obviously, I couldn’t part ways with Nox. I did, however, give up my second dog. I worked a second dog in the last stages of Nox’s career. He’d essentially signed up for the ride a-long program for his last eight months. He still loved going to work and driving around. It’s a difficult decision to give up one of your partners, but it’s simply not possible for some handlers to keep their dog. In a perfect world, I’m sure that very few dogs would leave their handlers upon retirement.
Here are a few things to consider with the adoption of a retired police or military working dog. Like their handlers, or people in general, dogs have terms of service. Dogs are living breathing creatures…we’re no different in that respect. How long can one expect to push their body to the brink before a few injuries start to linger? Imagine running through dark hilly forest at night, hopping booby trapped fences, or having your dog drag you through an icy alley because he’s tracking a strong scent
While some agencies treat these heroic four legged veterans as they morally should through veterinarian care and expensive food costs, there are many agencies that do not provide care for these retired furry members. As mentioned above, years of apprehending dangerous people and putting their lives at risk is hard on the body. Once these working dogs reach retirement, the veterinarian bills start to creep up. While these dogs were definitely bred for a life of service, with their high prey and hunt drive, they also had no say in their occupation. I choice to be a dog handler, as it was a life long passion, so I only have myself to blame for injuries sustained throughout my career. My dog, on the other hand, did not
While a working dog can make the inevitable transition to pet, he may never truly be a pet. The thing to remember is that many of these working dogs still retain years of repetition and training. It’s important to note that most police dogs are more social than the average dog but they still retain certain drives that the average dog does not exhibit. This is what made them so spectacular at their jobs. Most working police or military dogs make horrible pets, but they can adjust in their older years. They’re the kind of dogs that would have destroyed homes in their youth, due to their energy level. They will need a lot of care and attention which means offering them the right sort of environment and the time to adapt to a new way of life they would feel comfortable in.
In his first week of retirement, the old Black Dog took me on three km walks. It was a test to see how he’d react to the neighbourhood dogs. He passed that test, as he was more socialized than every dog that he encountered. This slowly progressed to five and seven km runs. It’s September and we’ve progressed to eight and nine km runs. Who would have thought that the two of us, with proper diet and exercise, would fully recuperate from years of running around in the wee hours of the night.
Reading A Dog
Just a final note on housing a retired police dog, it’s definitely not for someone who isn’t skilled at reading a working dog. This evening, the Black Dog took me out for our eight km run through a valley filled with tall prairie grasses, marsh land, and a beautiful golden sunset. Despite the fact that I was running through a city park, it felt as though I was in the wilderness. We encountered quail and a frightened beaver that splashed us with water…it was a free shower. We also encountered friendly skateboarders who donned the attire of entrepreneurial pharmaceutical salesmen. Lord, bless their souls. The Black Dog’s head perked up from approximately 200 m away. I quickly clipped his six foot leash to his pinch collar. He displayed his typical prance and body language when locating someone of interest. While he’s retained his ability to sense inappropriate behaviour, he still feels that he’s duty bound to apprehend anyone who resembles a criminal. I’ve said it before, read your dog.
I tend to end each story with a life lesson. Today will be no different. While it’s great to reminisce and think of the gold old days, there comes a time when we must pass our knowledge on to others. If others are successful, or even better than us, then we know we’ve done our job right. I’ll end on a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama, “The purpose of life is to be happy.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed my post. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.