Proposed law to care for retired K-9s would be 'huge,' Fla. cops say
Sheriff Mike Chitwood says the bill is "a token of appreciation" and would make sure each dog gets the quality of life it deserves
By Patricio G. Balona
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — In the course of their careers, police dogs often suffer wear and tear from constant training, chasing suspects and sometimes even taking a bullet in the line of duty.
When K-9s retire, sometimes expensive care for the animals falls to the officers who adopt the dogs as their own.
But a bill put forward by Rep. Sam Killebrew, R- Winter Haven, could ease that financial burden and offer quality care for the retired dogs.
Killebrew's bill, HB25, would disburse funds to cover veterinary visits and more for the K-9s.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the bill is important. Two dogs from the Sheriff's Office were recently shot and wounded by an armed carjacking suspect.
"These canines, they live with this, this is what they are born and bred for, this is what they are trained to do," Chitwood said. "Their service life is maybe six or seven years and they retire with back injuries, hip injuries, getting shot."
'A small token of appreciation'
The proposed law would help ensure the animals live a good life in retirement, Chitwood said.
"I think that it's a small token of appreciation to make sure that the deputies, when that dog is retired to them, they have the medical coverage, the food, whatever needs to be done to make sure that the K-9 is rewarded and it has the quality of life it deserves," Chitwood said.
Proposed bill 'would be awesome'
The proposed law would also help K-9 officers from small departments that do not provide a budget for retired dogs, said DeLand police Sgt. Richard Cody.
"(The bill) would be awesome for not only me, but for handlers across the state of Florida," said Cody, one of the DeLand Police Department's three K-9 handlers.
Cody's police dog, Daro, a 9-year-old German Shepherd, broke a tooth while training and now has a titanium replacement.
After seven years of service with the DeLand Police Department, Daro retires on Oct 4. Cody will take the dog home next week and will shoulder the expense of caring for his partner in retirement.
Among other things, dental care for police dogs can be expensive, Cody said.
"There are agencies out there that they have in their budget where they care for the dogs after they retire, but most of the agencies in the state of Florida don't do that once the dog retires," Cody said.
If approved, bill would go into effect next year
Killebrew's bill, if approved in the next Legislative session, would become law on July 1, 2022. The money, a yearly sum of $300,000, would come from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
A non-profit organization would administer and manage the program and disburse the money.
Funds would cover veterinary care, annual wellness examinations, vaccinations, internal and external parasite prevention treatments, testing and treatment of illnesses and diseases, medications, emergency care and surgeries, veterinary oncology or other specialty care, euthanasia and cremation.
Killebrew did not respond to emails and calls made to his Tallahassee and Winter Haven offices.
Volusia County deputy and K-9 handler, Brett Whitson, said it would be "huge" if the proposed bill becomes law.
Whitson's K-9 partner, Endo, has been shot twice in the line of duty, most recently on Sept. 10 by armed carjacking suspect Shedrick Singleton, 21, of Orlando, who bailed out of a car in Deltona.
Another sheriff's K-9, Ax, was also shot by Singleton, according to the Sheriff's Office. Both Ax and Endo survived their wounds.
"When we get them (in retirement), they're battered and beaten and you know now they're needing their supplements and that's when it all falls on us to take care of that," Whitson said. "Yeah, so if the proposed bill (were to become law) that would be huge."
DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger said K-9s are unsung heroes, and providing care for them in retirement brings them recognition and respect.
"Dogs provide a great service to law enforcement for a certain period of time and to recognize them in this way, I think is fitting and it demonstrates that we appreciate their service," Umberger said.
Chitwood added that police dogs in retirement have earned the care the proposed law intends to provide.
"It's not like they sit in a classroom. Everything they do is physical," Chitwood said. "So they are really like professional athletes and they should be treated as such when they retire."
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