It was a bright sunny August afternoon with the temperature pushing 90 degrees and virtually no breeze. Sitting in a dry creek bed, wearing the equivalent of five winter coats, I could feel the sweat dripping down my face as I heard the dog rapidly approaching. I would like to tell you that all the sweat was from the heat and humidity and none of it was from fear. I would like to tell you that I wasn’t nervous about the large German Shepherd barreling down on me, but both would be a lie. After what seemed like forever the dog came through the brush, clamped his teeth firmly around my arm, and began to drag me backwards up the bank where the handler was able to “take me into custody”. I got about 30 seconds to try and cool off with whatever breeze came my way before it was back into the creek bed to play Hide-and-Go-Bite with 7 more dogs. This was my introduction to K9.
From the beginning of my law enforcement career, I was fascinated by watching the K9s work. They all seemed to have such an intense drive to work no matter what they were doing. Even chasing a ball around a field was done with a mix of determination and joy, as though nothing in the world mattered more than catching and biting that fuzzy yellow ball. These dogs looked nothing like the German Shepherds I had at home who would chase after a squirrel but would give up as soon as it was out of reach. Shortly into my career, I knew I wanted to be a K9 handler for the department, so I started attending the monthly county-wide training days to watch and learn more about how these dogs worked. What started out as a way to try and learn from the sidelines quickly evolved into me volunteering to be the decoy and letting all the dogs bite me during the different scenarios (starting with that dry creek bed). To this day, I think I have learned more about the way working dogs operate by being in a bite suit than anything else I have done.
Going back to that hot August afternoon: once I had been found by the last dog and it was time to get out of the bite suit, I was dripping in sweat. I sat down on the ground in the shade and desperately tried to cool off. While drinking bottle after bottle of water I noticed that the dogs who had been placed back into air-conditioned vehicles after the track were also still panting heavily when the handlers got them out for a round of obedience or just a quick potty break. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but I would later come to understand just how hard these dogs work and how much energy they bring to each task they perform.
When I was selected to be a handler for the department, I was taught in Handler’s School to pay attention to your dog when out working: to be ready to pick up on when the dogs give an alert, but just as important is the fact that oftentimes these dogs will work until they drop. One of the most important things to do as a handler is to know when to safely stop the dog and return them to a place they can cool down and rest. It is in these dogs’ nature to keep going until they physically cannot go any further. This trait is why we choose them to do what they do, and it is what we love about them.
Like professional athletes who have pushed themselves throughout their careers, by the time these dogs are ready to retire they are often feeling the impact of their years of service. Even in retirement or near the end of their lives, these dogs still want to give everything they do 110%. They may be a little gray around the muzzle and a little slower, but they dig deep to find that youthful drive, and now it is even more important that we keep a watchful eye on them.
Please consider donating to the Shadow Fund to help and support these dogs who have left it all on the field. By helping to assist with the high cost of medical care that is typically needed with retired K9s, the Shadow Fund allows these dogs to live out the remainder of their lives in relative comfort and receive the treatments they need without creating an undue financial burden for their handlers.
–Deputy Nate Hibschman
Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office
We sat on the cold concrete floor together. His brown, milky eyes looked up at me above a weathered gray muzzle. His ear was wrinkled and folded over from past hematomas and as he panted, I could see the teeth he had left were worn down to his gums. If anyone else had seen him for the first time they would have thought he was 20 years old. This was the first time I had really noticed what a decade of police work had done to his body. He was my first canine partner, Hunter, a sable German Shepherd Dog with large bone structure and a prey drive that never went away, no matter how many years had gone by. We had worked together for 7 years and together for almost 10. On that day, at his 12 years of age, in his retirement, we waited in a small beige exam room at the emergency veterinary hospital.
The ordeal began earlier in the evening. He was acting lethargic and wasn’t interested in eating food. I noticed his stomach was swollen and took him to our local vet. A quick X-ray revealed fluid in his abdomen and an abnormal looking spleen. We then went to the emergency vet where we waited for a doctor to be called in to run an ultrasound. When the doctor finally arrived, I muzzled him up and they took him into the tiny ultrasound room. He wasn’t interested in cooperating with the medical staff and they were unable to control him. When I entered the room, a calmness came over him and he allowed them to perform the ultrasound. I finally carried him back to the exam room after they finished and waited for the news, I knew would be bad.
Hunter had a large tumor on the spleen that had ruptured and he was bleeding to death. I was offered three choices – euthanasia, take him home with pain medication to ease the suffering until he passed on his own, or an expensive surgery to remove the spleen which might not be successful. Even if the surgery did work there was no guarantee how long he would last after recovery. If you’ve ever had a pet, let alone a working dog, you know there wasn’t really a choice at all. The only option was surgery, there was no way I would give up on him. After all, he had never given up on me or anyone in the community we served.
Fortunately, there was funding in place to help pay for the surgery in addition to a discount offered by the hospital for police dogs. I could focus my time on his recovery and remaining time with us, instead of how to cover such a large expense. But most handlers aren’t that lucky. Most have to cover 100% of the cost of their retired dogs. That’s where you come into the picture. You can help retired working dogs by allowing them to continue enjoying their life. After they’ve given their all to serve each and every one of us, we can give back. Please consider donating to the shadow fund, so these dogs can trade dollars for days.
If you’re wondering what happened to Hunter, he had a fantastic recovery. He was initially supposed to stay in the hospital three days for recovery. However, they released him after one day because he was doing so well. He came home and spent his last year doing and eating whatever he wanted to.
— Thomas Owens
K-9 Patrol Sergeant
Avon Police Department
After about ten to twelve years, it’s usually time for a military working dog (MWD) to retire.
Photo: Rico, a retired military working dog, sits between retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Spangenberg and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rachel Weis at the veterinary treatment facility on Dover Air Force Base, Del., Jan. 24, 2018. Air Force photo by Roland Balik
Unlike us, they don’t get out and start celebrating life immediately. Hundreds of them are sent to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas every year. Before November 2000, most of the dogs were euthanized or just left in the battlefield troops just left (because despite the rank and funeral honors, they’re listed as equipment).
Thankfully, “Robby’s Law” opens up adoption to their former handlers, law enforcement, and civilian families.
When a dog is retired out, it is usually because of injury or sickness and the best person to care for the puppy is the handler. More than 90% of these good dogs get adopted by their handler. Makes sense — calling a military working dog your “battle buddy” seems less awkward when the context is with a Labrador Retriever.
Next on the order of precedent in MWD adoption is law enforcement. Their services would be invaluable within police forces because they are trained to do exactly when the police would need them to do. However, the dogs are contractually agreed to belong to the department. They are the only ones allowed to allow the dogs to perform patrol, security, or substance detection work and the DoD has strict restrictions otherwise.
Sadly, even the police force won’t take the rest of the military working dogs because of their age or injury. This is where civilians come in. Bare in mind, adoption isn’t a quick process and applicants are carefully screened. It may take about a year on the waiting list to get your first interview.
They are not some goofy pug you can just adopt and take home. These dogs have usually deployed and show the same symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. These dogs were trained to sniff out roadside bombs and to fight the Taliban and now have trouble socializing with other dogs and aren’t as playful as they were before.
The MWD selection process demands that the most energetic and playful puppies are needed for combat. After years of fighting, these old dogs show signs of nervous exhaustion and distress. If that pulls at your heartstrings because it hits close to home, it is scientifically proven that dogs (including these MWDs) can aid and benefit those with Post Traumatic Stress.
If you don’t mind the wait, have an appropriate living space for a large dog, and are willing to aid these four-legged veterans, there are organizations that can help. Save-A-Vet and Mission K9 Rescue are great places to start.
Blog article shared with permission from the original source:
When I started my career as a K9 handler 12 years ago, there were limited avenues for training in the Central Indiana area. I was fortunate to train with a group of handlers and trainers who helped select my new K9 partner, Axel, then trained me, not so much Axel, in handling my new partner. Once out of my initial training, I was eager to work and train Axel as much as possible. More often than not several handlers got together on a monthly basis and worked on different scenarios and if we needed help, I was able to reach out to the network of handlers and trainers I had met along the way early in my career. I was also fortunate to have an administration that allowed me to seek out training pretty much anywhere I could find it. What I found was the vast majority of the training was some distance away or often out of state.
As I continued in my K9 career, a select few handlers who also wanted to train as much as I did, began training together each month. It was that wanting to learn as much as possible that led to the idea of a forming a training group. Several of us got together and attempted to start an organization that was just about training. Well…we soon found out that it was a daunting task to form a legitimate non-profit organization. Several pitches to various existing non-profit training groups to allow us to jump on their coattails fell to deaf ears, as well as a failed attempt to be part of a group of trainers to organize some sort of state standards. I was resolved to just continue our small training group of handlers in my county and traveling where I could, to find training.
Then I met Theresa Brandon. Theresa had an idea to start the Shadow Fund as well as building a War Dog Monument in the area. I then conveyed my vision of a training alliance. It was like a light bulb went off for the both of us; combine our ideas of a non-profit organization – JUST ABOUT THE DOGS – working, retired and those that have passed, the foundation for the Central Indiana K9 Association was born. I recall at one meeting with Theresa, my excitement grew with our ideas, I asked: “Where have you been for the past 10 years?” I knew from the beginning as we floated ideas and plans, and as we assembled an awesome team of both civilian and law enforcement volunteers, the vision for this new organization – JUST ABOUT THE DOGS – was going to happen.
It is my privilege and honor to be a part of a new and exciting organization that was formed to assist and honor working dogs that are currently active, retired and K9s that have passed. As we continue to grow the Central Indiana K9 Association, first with the 1st phase rollout of the Shadow Fund, we will be focusing on the training portion in the 2nd phase and with a war dog monument to be constructed in our final 3rd phase. I would encourage anyone interested in being a part of our team to contact me or any one of our board members.