What Happens After Retirement?

October 8, 2011 § 20 Comments

Dooney, a former explosives detection dog, is looking for a permanent family home. After years of national service, the future of this 8-year old Springer Spaniel now looks a little uncertain. Dooney’s adoption advertisement, which struck me as a bit unusual, stole my attention while catching up on the news this morning. It made me stop and wonder: What happens to working dogs once they have retired from their duties? 

It never occurred to me that service dogs like Dooney would end up in animal shelters, where their fates are left to chance encounters with willing adopters. Being the idealist that I am, I assumed that a long-term retirement plan—or, minimally, a transition program—would be made available for canines exiting the police force and (re)entering the ‘real’ world. After all, these special dogs (like their human counterparts) put their own lives on the line each time they set off to work. So, this begs the question: Doesn’t Dooney, and others like him, deserve more than an advertisement in the newspaper? It cringes me to think that the future of active duty-dogs could be reduced to nothing more than days being spent idle in an animal shelter awaiting adoption.

My informal investigation into this subject led me to some interesting facts. There are over 170 dogs working in the Singapore Police K-9 Unit. Many of these canines began their puppyhood overseas where they were bred specifically to become working dogs and only undergo training at 18-24 months of age on location in Singapore. The four-legged recruits must then pass an evaluation test that will determine whether they are fit for the job. Those falling short of the requirements are re-assessed and, where possible, re-trained for other avenues of service. These loyal national canine heroes are allowed to work for as long as they are able to demonstrate a physical and mental ability to do so—most, however, will retire by the time they are 8 years of age.

What strikes me is the number of retirees that leave the Police K-9 Unit each year. According to the Singapore Home Team website:

…about 40 dogs retire annually and the Police K-9 unit will hold up to three adoption programmes per year to help them find a home.

I was unaware that such an adoption program exists for retired working dogs in Singapore and am delighted to learn about it. So, for potential adopters who have exhausted their options in finding a family companion at local animal shelters such as the SPCA, they can now consider opening their hearts and homes to a retired K-9 Unit dog. After years of dedicated service, I think these hardworking canines truly deserve a relaxing and rewarding retirement.

As for Dooney, his adoption advertisement in the newspaper has left me still puzzled. Whatever his circumstances may be, I hope Dooney finds a good home very soon.  

 

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§ 20 Responses to What Happens After Retirement?

  • Wow. I think it is great that there is an adoption program. I really think it would be cool if the pups could retire with someone that they have been ‘working’ with for all those years. These would make great pups as they would be so very well trained!

    • Absolutely, I also think an adoption program is not only a wonderful initiative but a necessity when it comes to the task of rehoming retired K-9 Unit dogs. I’m now curious to know what it is like to have adopted a retired police dog—it would be very interesting to hear about it from an adopter’s perspective!

  • Flora says:

    I saw that in the paper today, too. I hope Dooney finds a good home.

  • Jean B says:

    Dooney’s situation is certainly puzzling, and worrisome. I know in Canada, the family with whom the dog has lived through its service life will often opt to keep the dog – a very close bond is formed between handler and dog.
    I believe an organization that uses dogs as part of its labour force has the responsibility to rehome them to carefully selected adopters. And I would think any adopter would be lucky to be selected for such a well-trained companion. You’d think they’d have a waiting list – thus making Dooney’s ad even more puzzling.

    • Thanks Jean B for your insightful comments. It would be interesting to learn about some of the best practices in other countries that also employ canines as part of their workforce—after all, dogs have been working companions longer than they have been domesticated pets. That being said, it is nonetheless important that the welfare of working dogs be given great consideration. In this respect, I absolutely agree with you that it is the organization’s responsibility to ensure that working dogs are cared for throughout their lives and not only for the duration of ’employment’. Thank you for understanding my curiosity over Dooney’s ad—some times you just have to question what you see.

  • totomameee says:

    I think i watch on those morning TV show such working police dogs cannot be adopted by just anyone. The adopters must have experience with such working dogs because they are probably are trained to be more aggressive and their energy level are very high and plus I think the home cannot have kids because of their aggressiveness. And there is a long list of criterias that I cannot remember haha!

    Initially I also think, woah since they are so well trained they must be so easy to adapt to a home style life but I think not as easy as I thought. Especially for working dog, if they suddenly don’t have a motive in their life, will they get depression? Haha, just a tot. Because I read somewhere, most working dogs must have a motive in their life to remain happy!! Not like TOto and Maple huh, Eat, SLEEP, Play and lots of biscuits and LOVE, is enough hahahaha …

    Oh their spring spaniel look so sweet! and their birth place are so exotic, Czech republic woooh~

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this! There is so much to consider around this subject of working police dogs—no wonder it’s a contentious debate. You’re so right, these dogs have needs that cannot be met by just any family willing to adopt them. I think proper screening of potential adopters is essential. And you’ve also made me wonder if these dogs experience some kind of post-work depression or retirement blues after years of regimented training and active duties. So many questions and so few answers! One thing is for sure, TOto and Maple have a really (almost too) comfortable life—if only they knew how lucky they are 😀

  • Novroz says:

    How long can a dog live? 8 years already being put into retirement is quite fast.

    How sad to know that when they aren’t needed,they were left like that…poor dogs. Maybe the policemen should adopt them

    • From what I understand, Springer Spaniels have a lifespan of 12-14 years while German Sheperds have a shorter lifespan of about 10 years. Retiring at 8 years of age sounds a bit too soon, but I guess the intention is to ensure that these dogs serve their duties during the period of their lives when they are most active and capable. For these dogs, the police force is the only ‘home’ that they have come to know—so, I imagine it would be quite sad when they eventually have to leave and I’m sure their handlers are equally as affected by the departures of their retired canine officers, too.

  • didiwright says:

    Very good question…You would think working dogs like him would stay with their human family (i.e. their handler’s family) for the rest of their life, wouldn’t you? Especially since these dogs have needs and are used to a lifestyle that a ‘normal’ owner is unlikely to be able to provide.
    I also think that 8 is a bit young for retirement, but I’m not surprised. After all, military staff have to retire early, too. I guess the physical demands of the job are too much after a certain age.

    • I think you’ve touched on a good point about the ongoing needs of these dogs—needs that may follow them throughout the rest of their lives, even after they have left the force. It would be interesting to hear what animal psychologists have to say about retired working dogs, and whether there may be any trauma or withdrawal symptoms that require attention prior to adoption and, perhaps, in perpetuity by the adopted families. Initially, I thought retirement at 8 sounded young… but, I suppose these dogs need to be in tip-top form and, as they enter the senior years, their agility may diminish—at this point, they might pose a risk to their own lives.

  • I echo what others have said — would be so wonderful if the humans who worked closely with these dogs could adopt them but I guess it isn’t always realistic. I imagine the homes that they go to should be well vetted to ensure a good fit for their needs. And I also agree that the police force has a responsibility to find them homes; they have given a lot and deserve the right retirement. Thanks for sharing this story — would be so interested to hear an update.

    • Yes, it would make a lot of sense for the handlers to be the eventual adopters but, as you say, it is not always possible. As such, I don’t feel it is the sole responsibility of the handler to find his/her retired canine officer a permanent home but, rather, the responsibility of the organization to set-up an adoption program that ensures the successful rehoming of these dogs. I, too, would be interested to find out about Dooney’s outcome—I hope it’s a happy one!

  • annyboo says:

    After all they do… surely they deserve a good place to retire… or a animal sanctuary for retired K-9 units 🙂 i am always hopeful of places like animal sanctuaries sprouting everywhere.

    I am sure these dogs are assigned with a handler. You don’t just give the dog away when they retire. After 8 years… there would be some love and attachment. Take the dog home with you.

    • A sanctuary for unadopted K-9 Unit retirees—now that’s an idea! I’m all for sanctuaries that allow their animals to live the rest of their lives happy, safe, and well-taken care of 😀 Oh, you know if I could I would take home Dooney in a heartbeat. Just his name alone brings a smile to my face.

  • Sapphire says:

    Hello Maple! We are a little behind but thanks for dropping by! Licks from Sapphire!!

  • I guess business is business. They can’t keep every dog they train for work once they can no longer perform their duty. I never imagined that some of them ended up in Shelters though right next to the stray found on the street! I know here in Seattle I have ran into a few German Shepard owners over the years that adopted retired police dogs so it makes me wonder if they have such a program here.

    I am finally done with the hardest work of our blog revamp so I hope to be able to stop by and visit more often. If you get a chance to stop by and check the blog facelift, let me know what you think.

  • After constantly having physical and mental excercise and training would they ever be able to adjust to an averag dog life? While the more informed dog owners understand that dogs need to walk on a regular (everyday) basis and need mental stimulation, so many average dog owners leave their dogs in the backyard or in the house all day. If a dog with no past training can become bored, destructive, and aggressive I wonder how bad it would be for the K-9 units. It’s really sad that they even end up in shelter at all.

    Thank you for this informative post, it had never even occured to me that K-9 dogs were put out for adoption after retirement.

    • Hi Silently Free, thank you for dropping by our blog and leaving a comment for us all to think about. It’s a curiosity whether K-9 dogs have the capacity to (re)enter the world of non-working domestic canines after leaving their 7 or 8 year career in the police force. There is a generally-accepted theory that dogs are very adaptable creatures who can adjust to new environments with a fair amount of ease but, nevertheless, I feel we should try to do what we can to facilitate that transition so as to minimize any potential psychological trauma. I truly hope Dooney’s case is one of the rare ones—it would be very sad if this is the ultimate fate that the majority of K-9 dogs have to face upon retirement…

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