San Diego councilman wants city to cover life-long medical care for retired K-9s

Currently, families who adopt the dogs must cover all medical expenses -- which can be substantial

By David Garrick
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — San Diego Councilmember Chris Cate wants the city's police dogs to get the same kind of lifelong healthcare benefits that human police officers get.

"These dogs are faithful public servants, and countless lives have been saved and preserved due to their efforts," Cate said. "The police dog is an athlete. Like all athletes, over time, the activities take a toll on the body."

Cate has asked Mayor Todd Gloria to analyze how much it would cost the city to cover lifelong maintenance, veterinary care and other benefits for police dogs, who are typically removed from service after seven years in the field.

Families who adopt the dogs after they retire now must cover all medical and other expenses, which Cate says can sometimes be significant.

"This is usually much more than your average pet," he said, explaining that police dogs often need pain pills and other attention after years of exerting themselves fighting crime. "Dental care alone can be thousands of dollars."

The dogs, which are highly trained before being deployed, are typically Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds, and Labradors. San Diego now has 36 police dogs, but the city had as many as 52 a decade ago.

The city's police dog program was launched in 1984 to help de-escalate situations and prevent elevated use of force by officers. Police officials say the dogs make suspects much more likely to surrender quickly out of fear.

[READ: 8 investments worth every penny for K-9 officers]

The dogs help in a wide variety of incidents, including burglaries, robberies and pursuits of suspects. They are also responsible for clearing areas before human officers approach a suspect.

The nonprofit San Diego Police Canine Association tries to help with the costs faced by those who adopt retired city police dogs. Cate's proposal would potentially shift those costs to the city.

The Police Department revamped its training and procedures for canine units in 2017 to shrink the number of controversial incidents with police dogs, including multiple biting incidents that prompted lawsuits.

Cate previously led the council's Public Safety Committee. His father was a California Highway Patrol officer.

The National Police Dog Foundation also gives grants to for police dog medical care to law enforcement agencies and people who adopt retired police dogs.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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