EDITORIAL: Retirement home

Measure aids in adopting animals when service ends

Animals are being utilized in increasing ways, from providing service and solace to people with disabilities to performing various professional services.

Law enforcement has used animals extensively for many years. Dogs sniff out contraband and bombs, even fugitives and people buried under rubble after a disaster. Horsemounted officers and tick riders patrol where vehicles aren’t practical, such as the brushland along the Rio Grande.

Rio Grande Valley residents are used to seeing these animals at work, sweeping cars at international crossings and checkpoints for hidden drugs, money or people.

Just like people, animals’ work lives are limited. They retire or are injured or disabled. Legally, their fate after retirement historically has received little consideration.

Proposition 10 on the Nov. 5 state ballot seeks to improve work animals’ retirement by making it easier for their handler or other caretaker to adopt them.

We encourage voters to vote yes for the proposed constitutional amendment.

Historically, Texas has focused on working animals as tools, whose value ends with their usefulness. The state’s Local Government Code classifies a police dog or other work animal as property. Once the animal is retired from service it is to be disposed of like any other surplus or salvage property: it can be auctioned, donated or even destroyed.

In reality, however, animals become valuable parts of an agency, often receiving rank and even commendations for exceptional performance or bravery. Special bonds are created between an animal and its handler — and the agency as a whole. We have published several stories about special K-9 teams, retirement ceremonies for animals or hero’s funerals for those killed in action.

Obviously, the animals are more than mere salvage when their careers end.

Many professional animals are adopted by their handlers when they retire, but it isn’t always easy or even possible. Some agencies, for example, require that surplus items be auctioned or sold in order to recoup some revenue. The handler might have to outbid others at auction in order to keep the animal.

Proposition 10 would make that adoption easier. The measure would specifically allow the transfer of a dog, horse or other animal to its handler or other qualified caretaker, if it’s deemed to be in the animal’s best interest.

Anticipating the amendment’s adoption, the state legislature this year passed Senate Bill 2100, which authorizes a law enforcement agency’s highest ranking officer — sheriff, chief, etc. — to determine who gets to adopt the animal. SB 2100 specifies that first consideration will go to the handler or the family of a handler who was killed in the line of duty, then to another law enforcement official and then to any other person. The official making the decision must ascertain that the person can provide adequate care for the animal.

Service animals have a value beyond their professional utility, and they shouldn’t be disposed of in the same manner as an old filing cabinet. The changes offered by Prop. 10 would be more practical, and more humane — both to the animals and to those who depended upon them as partners.