Politics & Government

New ballot measure would let Texas police dogs, horses retire with trainer or handler

Dogs are a man’s best friend, and police dogs are no exception.

Maybe even more so.

After all, police dogs go where some police officers won’t tread.

“Our dogs are force multipliers,” said Collin County Sheriff James Skinner, who served on the legislative committee for the Sheriff’s Association of Texas this year. “We love them. They are incredibly brave and faithful.”

Now it’s time, Skinner said, for Texans to do something to improve the lives of the dogs, horses and other animals that help law enforcers every day.

The last measure on the ballot when Texans head to the polls Nov. 5 is about police animals and what happens to them when they retire.

Proposition 10 would let these animals live out their golden years with the person who trained or handled them for no fee.

Currently, the state considers the animals as surplus government property. And the government can’t give away this type of “property.”

“We don’t want to see them sold or euthanized after having so faithfully served our citizens and protected us as they do,” Skinner said. “They deserve better than to be used up and cast aside.”

Early voting runs from Oct. 21 to Nov. 1.

Last handler

Skinner, a former airman in the Air Force, was a dog handler when he was stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

The dog he worked with was Jessie, a German Shepherd.

He actually ended up extending his tour because he didn’t want to leave Jessie.

“She was getting old enough,” he said. “I wanted to be her last handler.”

“Anybody that’s ever handled a dog understands that special relationship you build.”

Several months after Skinner returned to the United States, Jessie was put down.

K-9

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, has said he brought the bill forward after sheriffs in Tarrant and Ellis counties talked to him about how police animals must be auctioned, donated or destroyed, not retired.

He shepherded legislation through the state Legislature this past session to change the state statue and the Constitution.

“Few people are qualified to humanely care for and properly supervise a police dog or horse, and these animals need to be cared for by a capable individual at the end of their service,” Birdwell wrote in a Capitol update earlier this year.

This legislation, he said, will “protect these animals to ensure they are going to a proper home after their retirement from service and save taxpayer dollars from continued housing and care of the animal.”

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, carried the measure in the House.

The Tarrant County sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

“This legislation is so important,” Skinner said. “As a society, we need to do the right thing by these animals. We need to give them a humane way to live out their days.

“After all that they go through, it soothes the soul to know you’ll have the option, when a dog is retired, for a handler to take that dog home and love them and take care of them until they pass.”

And in Collin County, police service dogs now have a final resting place in the K-9 Cemetery that opened last year.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
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