When the fuzz turns gray: Routt County sheriff says retirement plan needed for K-9s | SteamboatToday.com

When the fuzz turns gray: Routt County sheriff says retirement plan needed for K-9s

Routt County Sheriff's Office K-9 unit, Boomer, was trained to sniff out heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and ecstasy. Sheriff Garrett Wiggins told the Board of Routt County Commissioners on Tuesday that his agency needs a retirement plan to more effectively transition such dogs out of their work.
Matt Stensland/File

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Sheriff’s Office is working on a new retirement plan — not for its deputies, but for the law enforcement dogs that help their two-legged handlers fight crime.

For the last six years, the Sheriff’s Office has trained and used K-9s for three primary duties: patrolling, searching for narcotics and tracking people. It currently employs two Belgian Malinois named Boomer and Murray. 

Boomer recently suffered some minor health issues, according to Sheriff Garrett Wiggins. While the dog is expected to make a complete recovery and continue working, it made Wiggins realize the Sheriff’s Office had no clear policy about what to do when such dogs inevitably become too old or injured to stay on the force. 

The issue, as he explained during Tuesday’s Routt County Board of Commissioners meeting, is that Boomer and Murray cannot just be donated to the Routt County Humane Society or go home to any family. He described Belgian Malinois as highly energetic, aggressive animals that form deep attachments to one owner and hardly anyone else. 

“They don’t usually make good pets,” he said.

Currently, Boomer and Murray are considered assets under the county’s Road and Bridge Department, Wiggins told the commissioners. 

As Commissioner Tim Corrigan said, personnel from that department aren’t exactly the best people to determine what to do with the Sheriff’s Office dogs.

“It’s more complicated than replacing a ’78 Ford pickup,” Corrigan said.

Commissioners, therefore, gave Wiggins the discretion to create a policy that made sense to him and his deputies. The sheriff presented three options when retiring a law enforcement dog. 

The first option, and the one he wants to prioritize, is either donating the dog or selling it for a small fee to its handler. This is the most common form of retirement for K-9s, Wiggins said. 

Boomer and Murray have trained and worked with the same two handlers, deputies Ed Hendricks and Jake Doolin, respectively, for their entire careers. The dogs even live with the men and their families.

“There’s a really strong bond between them,” Wiggins said.

The second option would be to donate the dogs to an organization that specializes in retiring law enforcement K-9s. The third option, one Wiggins described as the worst-case scenario, would be to euthanize a dog with severe medical or temperament issues.

For now, finalizing a retirement plan does not require an immediate solution, Wiggins said. He 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, focusing more on using the animals for tracking and narcotics work. 

Patrol duties tend to be more intensive and aggressive, Wiggins explained, sometimes requiring dogs to tackle people to the ground and fight. 

While neither dog needs to retire in the near future, Wiggins said he wants to be proactive in establishing a formal plan. 

Commissioner Beth Melton said having a clear decommission policy also protects the county from potential lawsuits that may arise from the dog’s behavior following its retirement. Without a formal process, the county would still technically own the animals and be liable for any damages they cause.

“Let’s say an animal bit someone in this community, and we hadn’t adequately gone through a procedure,” Melton said. 

Wiggins said he would explore the options and work to devise a formal plan for the furry deputies. 

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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