Retirement! The glory days we all work for and long for. This is the culmination of our life’s work which reaps us our life’s reward.  We wish our friend’s well and we send them off with a party and perhaps the proverbial gold watch.  But what if our retiring friend is a K9?  What do they receive or perceive?

I’ve often wondered at this.  During a K9’s career, the dog is with their handler during the shift, training and interacting throughout the day. They begin and end each day together.  When a handler breaks out the uniform, the dog knows it is work day, and typically gets excited to be leaving for another adventure with the handler. This K9 team works together for several years, cementing this incredibly close bond between the two.

Now the K9 is up for retirement due to advancing age or due to a work injury necessitating a no work status.  The K9 gets a sendoff bone and is usually retired to the handler to live his/her life out in peace. What now?

In my experience, a new K9 is then brought home. The handler needs to begin to bond with the new K9 requiring time and interaction.  The old K9 usually will not immediately accept the new K9 into the house or environment thus requiring separation of the two, resulting in less time with the handler.  The new K9 leaves to go to work with the handler and leaving the retired K9 at home for several hours.  Even if the retired K9 has beloved family members home with him/her, it is not the same. The K9 is fiercely loyal and feels his/her place is with the handler.

How do you make this transition easier for the retired K9? Can you make it easier?

My first K9, Cliff, being the true warrior that he was, passed away a mere few months after retirement. My second K9, Turk was injured in the line of duty resulting in his retirement after just three and a half short but explosive years on the street at the age of 6. He required medical care due to those injuries and was in a lot of pain.

K9 Turk’s career consisted of numerous felony apprehensions as well several high yield narcotic finds.  K9 Turk had many violent encounters, one where he was sliced with a box cutter above his eye during a burglary apprehension.  Another on a felony track into a wooded swampy area, where K9 Turk engaged the suspect in a body of water, and the suspect attempted to drown Turk, repeatedly holding the K9 submerged under water. K9 Turk never released and the suspect was successfully taken into custody.

The final night of work, K9 Turk was on a felony track, and as he negotiated a 6 foot fence, two of his vertebrae collapsed into each other.  After Turk recovered from this injury an undetermined auto-immune disease set in.  He was retired due to this.  His grand reward for his brave service and resulting retirement was…. K9 Dagger.

K9 Dagger invaded K9 Turk’s home, his family, his patrol car, and required his mom’s attention.  K9 Turk, always the gentleman, gave K9 Dagger everything but what he valued the most, his handler, his mom, me.  K9 Turk at times could barely stand, yet his eyes followed me everywhere and devoured me. I would return home, leaving K9 Dagger in the car so I could give K9 Turk his one on one time each day.

I would lay with Turk for hours, trying to comfort him with my touch.  I would lift him on the couch or bed so he could be next to me.  I would assist him outside for potty breaks as he was the utmost proper about such things. I would give him medication injections myself under the care of our beloved veterinarian and hold him as his body rejected food at times. That was the easy stuff.

But how do you explain to a dog that he could NEVER be replaced in your heart?  How do you convey to a dog his importance and his WORTH even in his sickness? How do you thank a dog for his unwavering loyalty and reassure him that his HOME will be with you ALWAYS?

I surely do not know.  I do know that K9 Turk is adored by all who come into my home. His generous loving spirit radiates from his gorgeous brown eyes and his courage is seen daily as he trots around the yard or playfully bites at me for attention. I believe that Turk has accepted his new role as guardian and peace maker of the house.  I hope that his dignity is intact each time he sees me leave with K9 Dagger.

I will at times when K9 Turk is feeling spritely, in full uniform, call him to me and take him to the patrol car, help into the unit and take him for a quick ride. His joy is clearly evidenced as he bounces out and back into the house with a huge grin on his face.

Retirement is what a lot of humans work for and strive for.  Retirement for K9 dog warriors I fear, is a completely different matter.  The handler, dad or mom, is the key in making the transition more tolerable and manageable. Making time for our older or injured partners while forging bonds with the new K9s is challenging, but knowing the fierce love between the handler and the K9, I have every confidence that a successful and happy transition will be negotiated.

Master Deputy Charlotte Raschke has worked in law enforcement since 1988.  She started her career in Detention Services and worked all phases of patrol, street crimes, crime prevention, property detective and the K9 unit. She has been in K9 for 13 years as a handler, working three patrol utility/narcotic dogs and a single purpose EOD dog. Master Deputy Raschke is currently a K9 trainer for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa, FL.  She was twice awarded the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, the Deputy of the Quarter, and four lifesaving awards.  She is an adjunct Instructor for St. Petersburg College’s Multi-Jurisdictional Counter Drug Task Force.  Master Deputy Raschke serves as Law Enforcement Today’s K-9 expert