Texas Votes to Allow Law Enforcement K-9s, Horses to be Adopted by Handlers After Retirement

Texas voters on Tuesday voted by 94 percent in favor of Proposition 10, which allows animals who serve alongside law enforcement to retire and be adopted.

Austin American-Statesman
Cpl. Al Garibay with the Austin Police Department, holds two horses during a ceremony last year in Manor. Voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would revise how local governments handle dogs and horses when they retire from law enforcement.
Cpl. Al Garibay with the Austin Police Department, holds two horses during a ceremony last year in Manor. Voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would revise how local governments handle dogs and horses when they retire from law enforcement.
ANA RAMIREZ/AMERICAN-STATESMAN/TNS

Officer.com Editor's Note: Texas voters on Tuesday voted by 94 percent in favor of Proposition 10, which allows animals who serve alongside law enforcement to retire and be adopted, amending the state Constitution, which previously considered such animals as surplus property that could only be auctioned, donated or destroyed.

AUSTIN, Texas -- After Jim Skinner met Jessie in the Philippines, he couldn't imagine his life without her.

Skinner, a former Air Force security police dog handler, extended his overseas tour for an additional year and a half so he wouldn't have to leave Jessie, his K-9. Until 2000, federally owned dogs were regularly euthanized at the end of their military careers.

"They didn't allow retirements and didn't allow us to bring them back to the States," Skinner, now Collin County sheriff, recalled.

Congress enacted "Robby's Law" in 2000, which started an adoption program for military dogs at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where all military dogs are trained.

But in Texas, law enforcement dogs and horses are considered surplus property — a county can only "auction, donate or destroy" the property when it stops being useful. The current law makes it difficult to retire a dog when their handler leaves or retires, a bill analysis by the Senate Research Center found.

While it's unlikely that law enforcement dogs are regularly euthanized in Texas, Skinner said, the animals must be sold to comply with state law. Skinner, in his role on the legislative committee for the Sheriff's Association of Texas, urged lawmakers to pass a resolution earlier this year to ask voters to authorize the adoption of retired law enforcement dogs and horses to their handler when they leave or retire.

"It's the right thing to do," Skinner said of Proposition 10, a constitutional amendment that voters will decide on in November. "I see these young men and women that handle these dogs and how hard they work. You just can't imagine a situation where you'd have to take that dog from them."

Both the House and the Senate unanimously approved the resolution creating the proposed amendment. No one testified against the measure in a Senate committee, according to the measure's witness list.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, carried the measure in the House. Tinderholt's chief of staff, Jake Robinson, said his office did not hear any opposition to the measure and many law enforcement organizations are behind the effort.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, carried the measure in the Senate. In a Capitol update for his constituents, he wrote that he was approached from sheriffs in Tarrant and Ellis County about the measure.

"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 Austin, when a K-9 reaches retirement, the department sells the dog to its handler or an employee for $1 to comply with the law, according to Austin Police Sgt. Greg White.

If the resolution is approved, a dog could be turned over to its handler without a fee, said White, who works with the department's K-9 unit.

"Our (dogs) live at home with the owners," White said of the current process. "They're basically family."

When it comes to horses, Austin Police Cpl. Maxwell Johnson of the department's mounted unit said the animals also are sold for $1, and doesn't expect a constitutional amendment to change the process much. The horse will first be offered to the rider, then to the original owner or other officers within the department.

"I'm glad that we have our system set in place the way it is, and I'm glad that state law could make it that way for everyone," Johnson said.

Early voting runs Monday to Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5.

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