by Ranny Green
Imagine, for a minute: Your incredible partner of seven years is slowing up to the point, he no longer is capable of jumping, tunneling and racing over terrain he once traversed with ease.
That’s the dilemma Seattle K9 officers are faced with at different points in their careers. “You just never know what you are going to be confronted with on any call,” says former K9 officer Mike Meder, whose four-legged partner Jonah was shot in the head, survived and was back in the field within weeks.
Throughout a K9 dog’s career all care and maintenance is paid by the city. But upon retirement, that financial burden shifts to the officer and his family. “I can’t think of a case where the officer didn’t keep the retired dog as a family pet,” said Meder. In fact, it has almost become protocol that when a dog is retired the two-legged partner will be transferred to another unit within the department, since the K9 unit is one of the most coveted on the force and has an extensive waiting list.
Not every handler and future police dog are a perfect match, Meder emphasizes. “Sometimes a handler can go through several dogs before the right match. Once that match is cemented, the bond between dog and officer is instantaneous. This is what happened when Jonah came into my life.”
Training, adds Meder, “was just as much for me as it was for him. When in training our bond continued to grow. We learned to reach other’s moods, desires and wants. Jonah wanted nothing more than to please me and to go after the ‘bad guy.’ “
Eventually, Jonah’s career was cut short by a back injury stemming from the rigorous demands of the job. Surgery and rehabilitation failed to bring him back to working condition. “It was one of the saddest days of my life when I realized I would no longer be able to work with Jonah again.”
When Meder joined the K9 unit shortly after the turn of the century he was asked to explore the creation of a retired dogs care fund, which has become an integral fixture within the unit.
“It’s a nice safeguard for the officers and a deserved payback to the welfare of our four-legged partners,” said Meder, who continues to oversee the fund since his transfer in 2007 to the Harbor Patrol unit.
The Seattle Kennel Club has become one of the primary supporters of the fund this decade. At the club’s annual back-to-back March shows, the K9 unit performs a popular demonstration showcasing the talent of patrol and drug dogs and passing around the hat to attendees for donations, which usually total a few hundred dollars.
Seattle Kennel Club vice president Jane Anderson says, “The club has a responsibility to its members, the American Kennel Club, the general public in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest, and most of all, to our canine companions to make this a better world for people and their dogs.”
Several years ago, she said, the club began seeking ways of getting more community involvement and building a connection with a worthy partner.
While thumbing through a copy of the American Kennel Club Gazette Anderson read a story about the national registry’s Awards for Canine Excellence program and mention of Jonah receiving a third-place award in 2001. Voila! A few minutes later she had that worthy partner, the Retired Seattle Police Dog Fund.
Meder emphasizes, “The Seattle Kennel Club shows have both increased our visibility in the community and enabled us to boost our fund to the point where our retired dogs will receive the quality of care they deserve while not depleting the officers’ budgets.”
Each dog is allotted a maximum 10 percent of the fund’s balance each year; the balance is approximately $20,000 at this point with five dogs qualified for care. The number of animals eligible for covered treatment has ranged from two to eight annually since the fund’s inception. Cancer and orthopedic ailments are the chief treatments required by the retired dogs. To date, the fund has dispersed more than $19,000 to cover veterinary bills, rehabilitation and euthanasia for 11 dogs.
The K9 section includes a sergeant, a training officer and 13 handler officers, including 10 working with generalist or patrol dogs, two with narcotics-detection animals and one with a bomb-detection canine. Patrol dogs are worked chiefly at night but are subject to callouts during the day.
Donations can be mailed to Retired Seattle Police Dog Fund, P.O. Box 84423, Seattle, WA 98124.
Also, more information is available on the group’s new web site, http://www.retiredpolicedogs.com.