It is only natural for police dogs and their handlers to get very close. These bonds undoubtedly form due to their working together on a daily basis – the pair may even live together with the police dog becoming an extension of the family. However, in Texas, when a police dog retires, they don’t always get to go live happily ever after with their handlers. That is because in Texas, police dogs are seen and treated as public property – and surplus property at that. This means that once a police dog is retired, they have to be auctioned off, donated or even destroyed!
But on Tuesday, this has changed thanks to voters voting an approval to amend the constitution. This means that now dogs, as well as horses and other animals working in law enforcement can be adopted by their handlers at no cost. They are even allowed to now be adopted by “qualified” individuals.
This change had the backing of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, with many of the organization’s members already upset with how the police dogs would be legally handled and treated as surplus under the law. Many of the officers saw their dog partners as family members, and there were many departments who would often mark canine retirements or deaths with a ceremony.
Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner, who chairs the legislative committee for the sheriffs’ association, said, “It’s the right thing to do. There’s been a lot of great dogs with great handlers, and the right thing should have been done by them. But it’s better late than never.”
This change, along with other changes, is showing how people want laws in place to keep dogs from being viewed as property. Animal rights activists have been pushing for many more changes – including legal personhood for animals. This has been a shift in the direction.
“It’s a really antiquated law,” Richard Geraci of the Retired Police Canine Foundation said of Texas’ former approach, which he added is unfortunately a common practice across the United States. “These issues really need to be modernized in the interest of the animals. . . . It’s a living thing.”
Regardless, before the law officially changed, departments have the creative ways of working around the law. When Skinner was sheriff in Collin County in 2017, two “old and ailing” police dogs were up for retirement. Skinner didn’t want to see the dogs auctioned off or euthanized, so his solution was to “take them out of active duty” but he didn’t officially retire them. This meant that the dogs were able to stay with their handlers, and Skinner didn’t have to replace them. Retired dogs and horses have been known to be sold by the Austin Police Department to their handlers or other employees for only one dollar as per a report by The Statesman.
Skinner also talked about other departments that have had to put down their retired dogs over the years.
“There are different ways that people have tried to deal with this. But here’s the reality: We’re peace officers, and we stand for the rule of law, and we want to do the right thing,” he said. “We’ve asked for this exception, to not treat these animals as property, for all the obvious reasons.”
This situation is something that hits Skinner particularly close to home because of personal reasons. You see, about 40 years ago, Skinner was an Air Force K-9 handler in the Philippines. He had grown quite attached to his dog Jesse, and he actually extended his tour in order to stay with her as her handler.
“I knew I might be her last handler. That was during the time period when dogs were done, they were either abandoned or euthanized,” Skinner said. “That’s what the military did with them, and it broke a lot of hearts.”
Thankfully, in 2000, things changed for US military working dogs when a law that was passed that made them available for adoption. And in 2016, a law passed that funded overseas military dog reparation. Handlers are now given the first chance to adopt their animals.
Many sheriffs, including Skinner, approached Texas legislature about change. The proposed amendment was unanimously passed in April, and it was finally put to voters on the ballot on Tuesday.
One sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R, wrote to constituents this year saying, “Few people are qualified to humanely care for and properly supervise a police dog or horses. And these animals need to be cared for by a capable individual at the end of their service.”
As an animal lover myself I am so happy to see change towards the attitudes concerning animals in service. They deserve respect too!