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updated: 8/31/2014 6:36 AM

From working dog to family pet: Police dogs in retirement

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  • Video: Retired police dogs

  • Gurnee Police Officer Phil Mazur and his daughters Kailey, 10, right, and Allison, 8, play in their backyard with retired police dog Shane, 9, at their home in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

       Gurnee Police Officer Phil Mazur and his daughters Kailey, 10, right, and Allison, 8, play in their backyard with retired police dog Shane, 9, at their home in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Gurnee Police Officer Phil Mazur and his daughters Kailey, 10, right, and Allison, 8, play in their backyard with retired police dog Shane, active dog Hunter and puppy, Talia, at their home in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

       Gurnee Police Officer Phil Mazur and his daughters Kailey, 10, right, and Allison, 8, play in their backyard with retired police dog Shane, active dog Hunter and puppy, Talia, at their home in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Retired Gurnee police dog Shane relaxes with former partner, Officer Phil Mazur, at Mazur's home. Shane turns 10 in September. He retired due to declining physical abilities, including arthritis in one of his elbows.

       Retired Gurnee police dog Shane relaxes with former partner, Officer Phil Mazur, at Mazur's home. Shane turns 10 in September. He retired due to declining physical abilities, including arthritis in one of his elbows.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Allison Mazur, 8, plays with retired police dog Shane, right, active dog Hunter, middle, and puppy Talia at their home in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

       Allison Mazur, 8, plays with retired police dog Shane, right, active dog Hunter, middle, and puppy Talia at their home in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Shane, chasing Talia, retired after nine years on the Gurnee police force due to issues with his elbows, including arthritis and skin infections.

       Shane, chasing Talia, retired after nine years on the Gurnee police force due to issues with his elbows, including arthritis and skin infections.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Shane, a retired police dog, has made the transition to a family pet for Gurnee police Officer Phil Mazur.

       Shane, a retired police dog, has made the transition to a family pet for Gurnee police Officer Phil Mazur.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

Shane loves tug-of-war. He walks around his backyard with a tug toy or a deflated ball in his mouth, ready to play.

And unlike when he was working, the German shepherd doesn't have to sniff out drugs, track a criminal suspect or find a body to get the playtime he desires.

Shane's a retired police dog, spending his golden years living with his former partner, Gurnee police Officer Phil Mazur, and family.

According to Richard Ashabranner, president of the North American Police Work Dog Assocation, "99.9 percent" of police dogs retire to their handlers' homes. The association, founded in 1982, has about 3,000 members worldwide.

It's rare for a dog to be sold, he said, especially if the dog is retiring due to age and its physical condition. A slowed-down dog isn't valuable to other agencies.

Why retire?

Shane, 9, retired in June due to his age and disability (there's a fund set up to pay for his veterinary bills at http://www.gofundme.com/d2mfgs). He limps and wears a brace because of arthritis in his right front elbow.

He also has sores in his elbow pads due to a skin allergy.

Mazur said German shepherds have a high tolerance for pain, making the decision to retire them a difficult one. Shane is still willing to work, whether it is tracking armed robbers through a swamp near Waukegan or searching for human remains at a helicopter crash in Aurora.

Two years ago, at a Gurnee Days festival appearance, Mazur's wife, Traci, noticed a change, though. "He's just going through the motions," she told her husband.

"It (the pain) was not improving. We felt it was time for him to finish," Mazur said.

The job is demanding, especially for a patrol dog and those serving busy police departments, Ashabranner said.

The dogs' hips, shoulders and backs tend to suffer. They start to have trouble jumping in and out of the patrol car or sport utility vehicle.

Their endurance declines. A dog that used to go 30 to 45 minutes at a time on a search, without a break, will decline to do a 15-minute search, Ashabranner said.

German shepherds are perhaps the most well-known breed for patrol work, but Belgian Malinois are growing in popularity, Ashabranner said. These breeds can do several tasks.

Labrador and golden retrievers, springer spaniels and other sporting breeds are usually used for single purposes, such as searching for people to rescue, or searching for explosives or narcotics, Ashabranner said.

The dogs aren't cheap, costing $12,000 to $15,000 to purchase, said Kane County Sheriff's Deputy Nicholas Wolf. His Belgian Malinois partner eats a special diet that is high in fat and protein, designed for high-energy working dogs.

There also is the cost of the time the human handlers spend training with the dogs, both when the dogs are bought and as they are used. Mazur said he is required by state law to put in 16 hours of training a month with his canine partner.

Tough transition

At first, retired police dogs don't understand why they are staying home. "Shane always kept me in sight," whether at home or at work, Mazur said.

Traci Mazur said she had to put Shane in a headlock when Mazur left for work with his new partner, Hunter. And when Mazur gets home, Shane greets him at the door and follows him all around the house.

"He wants to go to work, but he knows it's time (to quit)," Phil Mazur said.

Eventually dogs become accustomed to retirement, Ashabranner said. "They've done their time serving their community."

Typically, Ashabranner said, the handler assumes the financial responsibility for feed and veterinary care. He said some states have considered enacting laws providing a pension for the dogs.

Wolf is fortunate. An Elgin feed store continued to donate food for the two retired dogs he had. One, Nanzo, retired due to old age; the other, cancer.

"Our expectations are a lot higher" when the dogs are workers, Wolf said. In retirement, Wolf didn't have to worry about how a lack of training or exercise, or some misbehavior, would affect Nanzo's performance.

"I guess I got a little soft," Wolf said.

Nanzo was treated "just like everybody's family dog pet."

"It's our time to give back and let him have a good life," he said.

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