Mass. bill would fund K-9s’ veterinary expenses during retirement
"[Mr. Warner] had over 500 apprehensions. He worked hard,” K-9 handler Eric Blair said. “These dogs do so much and ask for so little. He just wants a bone and a toy”
By Jeanette DeForge
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – On Mr. Warner’s last day of work, he helped apprehend an armed suspect who had just shot at police officers and barricaded himself in a home. His retirement came two hours later. It wasn’t as carefree as everyone hoped.
Two weeks later, the police dog, who served with the department for eight years, fell ill with a large mass on his hip. That led to a series of veterinary visits while the mass continued to grow, hurting the dog and requiring a series of surgeries, said Eric Blair, the K9 officer for Mr. Warner.
“We were draining our savings,” Blair said. Treatments cost more than $10,000.
Blair and his wife, Carmela, started a GoFundMe account that helped pay the bills. Charities that focus on animal care also stepped up to help.
“He’s a great dog. He’s a family dog now,” said Carmela Blair.
On Thursday, state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, and state Rep. Steven Xiarhos, R-Barnstable, joined with Springfield police and Mayor Domenic J. Sarno to promote a bill legislators are drafting that would ensure health costs of police dogs are funded after they retire.
“Dakota’s Bill” was named for a K9 that responded to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder so severe it was recommended the dog be euthanized. An animal rehabilitator stepped in to care for the dog, which is now featured in a movie that promotes the law, Xiarhos said.
Police departments pay for veterinary bills of working K9s. But once they retire, it’s a “mixed bag,” with some departments continuing to pay for their care and volunteer organizations stepping up to fund some costs, Xiarhos said.
There are multiple charities created to help animals. This fund created by Dakota’s Bill would combine donations and state money and give owners of retired K9s, who are usually the officers who handled the dogs, one place to go for financial help, he said.
Xiarhos is also the author of “Nero’s Law,” which allows EMTs to treat and transport working dogs by ambulance if they are seriously injured in the line of duty. He was the Yarmouth Police Chief in 2018 when one of his K9 officers, Sgt. Sean Gannon, was killed while trying to apprehend a career criminal. His dog, who the bill is named for, was shot but survived.
Seeking public support
Gonzalez said he expects work on the bill to be completed by the end of the month. Once filed, it will be moved to the Ways and Means Committee for further debate.
The state Legislature deals with 7,000 bills a year and many never progress to the floor. Gonzalez asked people to call their state representatives and senators to show support for the bill.
“Retired police dogs, like the women and men who serve our communities, deserve a peaceful retirement. We are hoping to assist dog owners with the cost of care and medical services after the beloved dog has dedicated years to service,” he said. “We should show compassion and provide for their retirement, honoring their loyalty and commitment to keeping our communities safe.”
Springfield has 10 officers who handle K9s. Superintendent Cheryl C. Clapprood said they provide a valuable service to the city searching for lost people, tracking drugs and apprehending criminals.
“The Blairs shouldn’t have this burden of paying for the health care of Mr. Warner,” Sarno said, adding his support.
The dog was named by a fifth-grade class at the Warner School, whose students won an essay contest. Blair added the “Mr.” because he joked that it sounded more distinguished.
Blair continues to work as a K9 officer with another dog. Mr. Warner, who is now 11, remains healthy but has a number of problems, including arthritis that requires multiple medications to keep him pain-free and able to take the walks he loves.
“It’s all the years of abuse on his body. He had over 500 apprehensions. He worked hard,” Blair said. “These dogs do so much and ask for so little. He just wants a bone and a toy.”