Police dogs are bred and trained for the work of sniffing out bombs, drugs and criminals. But they are often ill-prepared for a different challenge: retirement.
By the end of their careers, a heavy workload takes a toll on police dogs. Arthritis and stress-related disorders commonly set in once the dogs return home with their handlers for good.
But the cost of treating those conditions, which falls to law enforcement agencies while the dog is working, is left to the handler after retirement.
“They had four legs on the ground at all times,” said Adam Black, who retired from the Joplin Police Department along with Marmalade, a bloodhound who was his partner on the force.
“They’re very high-drive dogs that require a lot of stimulation. Whenever that stimulation dissipates, they begin to decline. … There are some expenses that are incurred.”
A fundraiser on Saturday at Main Street Pet Care Inc., a Joplin veterinary clinic, sought to fill the gap.
With the money raised at this event and earlier installments, Main Street Pet Care provides basic checkups and basic medications that prevent fleas and parasites.
But specialty treatments can be beyond the veterinarian’s reach. Ben Leavens, the veterinarian who owns the clinic, said the most driven police dogs often develop gastrointestinal problems that require expensive treatment.
“Some dogs essentially have to be on diets that cost between $100 and $200 per month,” he said.
Pet owners and supporters of local K-9 units stopped by the clinic on Saturday to buy T-shirts, raffle tickets, puppy massages and professional dog photos. All or part of the proceeds went to the clinic’s police dog fund, which is transferred to the Joplin Police Department and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, which may use the money for medical expenses or additional training.
A GoFundMe site accompanying the fundraiser brought in $845 before the time of publication.
Travis Walthall, a retired handler, has seen the benefit of those funds. At a recent checkup, his dog Takoa, a Malinois, incurred a bill of $548, mostly for common maintenance medications.
“Because of the fundraiser I paid $48,” he said. “Had it not been for the fundraiser and programs like that, I would have been on the hook for the entire bill.”
Police dogs are typically imported from Europe. Counting training, they cost upward of $12,000. The Joplin Police Department’s K-9 unit is among the largest and most sophisticated in the area and is frequently asked to help area police departments with bomb searches or to guard a visiting dignitary.
To be paired with a dog, officers must pass an agility test and an interview with other handlers.
Randy Black, was already a dog owner when he signed up to work with Fighter, the department’s bomb-sniffing dog. “It’s something I always thought about doing,” he said. “I always loved dogs.”
Fighter already lives at Black’s house during their time off. When he retires, he will live there full time.
Walthall, who led the department’s K-9 unit for 17 years, says Black shouldn’t be responsible for all of Fighter’s medical expenses.
It is more costly to care for a retired police dog than a typical pet, he said, both because they have reached retirement age and because of the intensity of their work.
Veterinary care that extends the life of a terminally ill police dog should be up to the handler, according to Walthall. But he suggests that routine veterinary care should fall to the city.
“These dogs do provide an invaluable service to their departments and their communities,” he said. “It has always seemed wrong to me that police departments wash their hands of dogs the day they retire.”