Austin, TX – Texans will have the opportunity on Nov. 5 to amend the state constitution to allow law enforcement animals to be adopted by their handlers when they are retired from active duty.
The current Texas constitution classifies retired law enforcement animals, such as dogs and horses, as salvaged or surplus government property, the Texas Tribune reported.
Under the Texas Local Government Code, the retired animals may only be auctioned off, donated to a civic or charitable group, or euthanized.
Proposition 10 would allow the retired police animals to be adopted, without an adoption fee, by their handlers or another qualified person, according to the League of Women Voters.
The federal government originally had the same policy for its working animals, but that was changed in the early 2000s, the Texas Tribune reported.
Now federal law enforcement animals may retire with their handlers or be adopted.
The changes at the state level began after Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner took office in 2017, the Texas Tribune reporter.
Forty years ago, Sheriff Skinner was a K9 handler in the U.S. Air Force who extended his tour of duty multiple times to stay with his military police dog because back then, adopting the military dogs wasn’t an option.
When the sheriff was faced with retiring two of the Collin County sheriff’s K9s shortly after he took office, he set about figuring out a way to make it possible for the dogs to remain with the handlers with whom they’d spent almost every day of their lives, the Texas Tribune reported.
“As they get older and more and more used to the families that they're around, these dogs, they're like a pet, and they love their handlers and their families," he explained. "So why not give them the ability if they're qualified to be a caretaker for their dog?"
Sheriff Skinner banded together with the sheriffs of Tarrant and Ellis Counties and the three started to work on changing the law, the Texas Tribune reported.
Proposition 10, the result of their efforts, exempts retired law enforcement animals from the state’s surplus government property rules.
Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff David McClelland said their agency had run into the same problem because their county required them to auction off retired K9s, and there was no guarantee that a handler wouldn’t be outbid.
"It's one of those things that you always wonder, why did [nobody] pay attention to it?" McClelland told the Texas Tribune. "It's something we feel really, really strongly about being in law enforcement."
"Without this law being in place, you've got to go home and tell your 10-year-old why they don't have their dog anymore," he explained.
McClelland said that most cities already allow handlers to adopt their retired K9s, but that counties are far more restricted by state law, the Texas Tribune reported.
Texas State Senators Brian Birdwell and Jane Nelson, both Republicans, co-authored the legislation.
"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," Nelson said in a statement. "These dogs should not be auctioned off as property."
The proposition’s companion legislation, Senate Bill 2100, added measures to make sure that if an animal’s handler was killed in the line of duty, the animal could be adopted by the handler’s family, according to the Texas Tribune.
It was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on May 4.
Collin County Deputy Sheriff Reid Golson told the Texas Tribune that he spends more time with K9 Olex than his family because the pooch is with him day and night.
“You spend so much time with these dogs... they become a part of the family," Golson said. "When they retire, I think they should be able to enjoy their retirement with who they've been with for the past five years and not put them in another environment that they're not familiar with."
Sheriff Skinner was enthusiastic about the support Proposition 10 has gotten ahead of the upcoming vote, the Texas Tribune reported.
"People can relate and understand when we talk about these brave and heroic police dogs that are out here working day in and day out with these handlers," the sheriff said. "They make great sacrifice. I mean, there's a lot of dogs that die in the line of duty... because we ask [them] to do things that otherwise we would have to go do. They carry the day."