Many police departments around the country employ special K-9 units that assist officers in everything from finding missing people to searching for evidence at crime scenes. These heavily trained dogs are true partners to their human companions, working tirelessly alongside them to keep their handlers—and the rest of us—safe. But what happens when their work is finished?
Up until the year 2000 most retired police dogs were euthanized, a shocking practice that was thankfully stopped with the signing of Robby’s Law by then-president Bill Clinton. Under the new law, which still stands today, dogs retiring from service in law enforcement or the military can be adopted by their handlers or other service members. And if that’s not an option, they can be adopted out into the general public.
What to Know About Retired Police Dogs
Most of the time, police dogs retire because of age. These dogs are highly intelligent and work hard throughout their lives, first in training and then in active service. By age seven or eight (or sometimes closer to 10 or 11), they’re ready to hang up their K-9 badges and spend their remaining years relaxing.
While police dogs are incredibly well-trained, the stress of the job can have unintended consequences, including anxiety and depression. Dogs who retire from the police force may exhibit negative behaviors such as aggression, separation anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. As such, they may require additional training in retirement or even re-socialization.
This isn’t to say that adopting a retired police dog isn’t worth it. In many cases, adopting a retired police K-9 is an incredible opportunity to provide a chance for a working dog to be just—well, a dog. If you’re interested in pursuing this type of rescue, read on for the steps that you’ll need to take.
How to Apply for a Retired Police Dog
Police dogs form intensely strong bonds with their handlers in the line of duty. As such, their handlers are always the first choice for adopters when the dogs retire. In most cases, these dogs do go on to live carefree lives as a family pet with their police partners.
Usually, opportunities for civilians to adopt retired police dogs only occur if a dog’s handler passes away or cannot otherwise care for him or her. Sometimes, dogs who “failed” out of police dog training and never actually performed active service become adoptable. In both cases, other law enforcement officers will be first in line to adopt, followed by the general public.
There is no organization strictly dedicated to adopting retired police dogs. Instead, organizations like the National Police Dog Foundation and the Retired Police Canine Foundation assist handlers with things like medical care and training for their retired pups.
Mission K9, however, is an organization that assists former working dogs in many ways, including arranging civilian adoptions. To find out more about their adoption procedure, as well as the process for adopting a retired police dog, visit their “Adopt” page.
Your best bet for adopting a retired police dog is to do the legwork yourself, calling local police stations and K-9 officer training facilities and inquiring directly. If a police department or training organization does have a dog for adoption or expects that they will soon—either because the dog is retiring from the force or deemed unfit for service—they’ll be able to fill you in on the exact adoption process and any adopter requirements. Do note that waiting lists can take time, and it may be years before a dog is available for you.
Why You Should Consider Adopting a Former Police Dog
The process to adopt a retired or “failed” police dog isn’t an easy one, nor is there a guarantee that a dog will be available or you’ll be successful in your application. If all the moving parts do come together, adopting a dog whose service has ended is a truly impactful way to give a happy ending to dogs who have worked hard to protect and serve the people around them.
The life of a police dog isn’t always easy. Like their handlers, police K-9s frequently face high-stress situations and life-threatening dangers. Adopting a retired police dog is an opportunity to provide a canine a chance to just be a pet in their final years, with all of the love and spoiling that goes along with it.
Rescuing a pet is a fantastic way to make a difference. If a retired police dog isn’t available, look through the TSA Dog Adoption Program, or consider just heading to your local shelter. There are millions of dogs and cats in need of homes, and many would be delighted to find forever with you.