Routt County K-9s get retirement plan
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Dogs working for local law enforcement now have a clear path to retirement following a unanimous vote from the Routt County Board of Commissioners to implement a new policy for old or injured K-9s.
Sheriff Garrett Wiggins first approached the commissioners about the need for a retirement policy in February. At the time, Boomer, a German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix from the Czech Republic, had suffered some minor health issues.
Although the dog should make a complete recovery and continue working, it made Wiggins realize the Routt County Sheriff’s Office had no clear policy about what to do when such dogs inevitably become too old or hurt to stay on the force.
As he had explained to the commissioners previously, these animals are specially trained for crime work. They are highly energetic, aggressive breeds of dogs that form deep attachments to one owner and hardly anyone else. In other words, they do not make great family pets.
Under current rules, the K-9s technically are assets of the Routt County Road and Bridge Department. As the commissioners mentioned in the past, it would be better for the Sheriff’s Office to decide a retirement policy rather than officials who are used to dealing with plows and pickup trucks.
Three options exist under the new policy. The first option, and the one Wiggins wants to prioritize, is selling the K-9 to its handler for a nominal fee of $1. Factors such as home conditions and the presence of other dogs also would be considered. The sheriff anticipates using this option in the vast majority of cases.
If the deputy who has been handling the K-9 has been with the Sheriff’s Office for more than five years and decides to leave his or her job, he or she could purchase the dog “for fair market value,” according to the policy. Wiggins and the county manager would approve or reject the request on a case-by-case basis.
The second option is to sell the dog for the same fee to “an experienced canine handler who is currently in good standing with the (Routt County’s Sheriff’s Office).” Commissioner Beth Melton noted there are several nonprofits that specialize in taking law enforcement K-9s, though no specific organizations were identified.
Wiggins emphasized he would have to carefully vet potential owners who are not the K-9’s original handlers, referring again to the dog’s specialized behaviors and loyalty.
“I think we would be putting ourselves at risk liability wise putting him with somebody who isn’t a really, truly experienced K-9 handler,” he said.
The third option, which Wiggins said would be used as a last resort, is to euthanize the dog.
Whoever takes ownership of a retired K-9 must sign a contract that releases Routt County of all liability and expenses, according to the policy. This is meant to protect the county from any legal trouble that might arise from the dog’s behavior.
The commissioners voiced their support for the policy, both as a way to prevent potential lawsuits and to help the dogs have happy lives after they hang up their badges.
“It seems straightforward enough to me and is certainly something I can support,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said.
While he is glad to have clear guidelines, Wiggins does not expect to utilize the retirement policy anytime soon. The Sheriff’s Office currently employs two K-9s, Boomer and Murray. The dogs have shown an aptitude for sniffing out illicit substances since the K-9 unit was started in 2015.
Wiggins estimates Boomer, the older of the two dogs, has another two to three years of work ahead of him. The Sheriff’s Office also hopes to extend the careers of its dogs by reducing their physical demands by using the animals primarily for tracking and narcotics work.
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