This Election Day, voters in Texas banded together to pass a constitutional amendment on a decidedly bipartisan issue: dogs. The new ruling allows retired police dogs to be adopted by their handler or another qualified caretaker at no cost. Previously, Texas’ K-9 cops had to be euthanized or auctioned off upon reaching retirement.
As Chase Karacostas reports for the Texas Tribune, state law classifies retired law enforcement animals as surplus government property not to be used for private benefit. The amendment offers a workaround to this stipulation, enabling police pups to stay with their human partners indefinitely.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner, chair of the local sheriffs’ association’s legislative committee, tells the Washington Post’s Karin Brulliard. “There’s been a lot of great dogs with great handlers, and the right thing should have been done by them. But it’s better late than never.”
Skinner, who assumed leadership of the local sheriff’s office in 2017, served as a K-9 handler in the Air Force nearly 40 years ago. He extended his tour of duty in the Philippines multiple times in order to spend more time with his furry partner, Jessie. According to Karacostas, Skinner knew that Jessie, a military service dog classified as government property, would likely be euthanized upon retiring.
The federal government reversed its stance on the issue in the early 2000s, but Texas’ law remained on the books.
Shortly after becoming sheriff, Skinner was tasked with deciding the fate of two “old and ailing” two K-9s in his department—an experience that led him to partner with sheriffs in neighboring counties to champion changes to the state constitution.
Some Texas law enforcement officials found ways of working around the antiquated law. In Austin, reports the Statesman’s Nicole Cobler, the police department sells retired dogs to their handler or another employee for just $1. Skinner, meanwhile, kept the two dogs up for retirement on the books but off active duty. Although this measure allowed the K-9s and their handlers to stay together, Brulliard writes that it prevented the department from recruiting replacement dogs.
Other Texas departments have followed the letter of the law, euthanizing or auctioning off retired police pups.
“There’s different ways that people have tried to deal with this,” Skinner tells the Post. “But here’s the reality: We’re peace officers, and we stand for the rule of law, and we want to do the right thing. We’ve asked for this exception, to not treat these animals like property, for all the obvious reasons.”
According to the Houston Chronicle’s Raga Justin, the proposed amendment—dubbed Proposition 10—made it onto the state ballot after receiving unanimous approval from Texas legislators this past summer. On Election Day, an overwhelming 94 percent of nearly two million voters voted in favor of the change.
“Police dogs develop a special bond with their handler, and—after a lifetime of public service—deserve to spend their golden years with their companion,” State Senator Jane Nelson, co-author of the amendment, says in a statement. “These dogs should not be auctioned off as property.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 2100, a companion motion authored by Nelson and fellow State Senator Brian Birdwell, into law this May. The bill allows the families of handlers killed in the line of duty to adopt their loved one’s K-9 partners. It also ensures that retired law enforcement animals not adopted by their handlers can be taken in by other qualified caregivers.
Over the past decade, law enforcement animals’ contributions to public safety have received increasing recognition. Over the summer, the city of Chicago announced plans for a memorial plaza honoring seven canine and three equine officers killed in the line of duty, and in April, the United Kingdom unveiled a National K-9 Police Dog Memorial.