Warsaw, Poland – You locate survivors in collapsed buildings, track down refugees, thwart drug and explosives smugglers and help fight the crowds. All in exchange for food and accommodation – and an occasional pat on the head.
With the retirement, however, the state care of the dogs and horses, which are used by the Polish police, border guards and the fire brigade, ends. They are given away with no protection for their future well-being.
Following appeals from affected service members, the Home Office proposed new laws giving these animals official status and paying for retirement to cover the often costly care costs of their new owners.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski described the bill as a “moral obligation” that should be unanimously supported when it goes to parliament for approval later this year.
“More than one life was saved, more than one dangerous criminal was caught thanks to the animals on duty,” he said in February.
The new law would affect around 1,200 dogs and more than 60 horses currently in use.
According to the Interior Ministry, around 10% of animals are retired every year. Most of the dogs are German or Belgian Shepherds.
Pawel Kuchnio, handler of the Warsaw police tracker dog Orbita, says that retired dogs almost always require expensive medical care to treat ailments such as tight hind joints.
The pension benefit “will certainly be of great help and make things easier,” he said.
The bill would confirm the unwritten rule that zookeepers have priority to keep them before they are offered for adoption.
Even more important, however, is that the state’s responsibility for the animals is extended into retirement and that financial support for the owners is ensured.
Slawomir Walkowiak, 50, a former police officer who cares for retired service dogs and horses at Poland’s only animal shelter called “The Veterans’ Corner”, says regular government payments would ease concerns about bills running into thousands of zlotys a month (Dollar) reach.
The privately run, farm-like animal shelter in Gierlatowo in western Poland houses 10 dogs and five retired police horses in a spacious paddock.
The oldest horse there, Hipol, is in his late twenties and almost blind. Walkowiak says he has a slim chance of surviving in a regular stable.
According to Walkowiak, many service dogs are chained to posts or given improper duties because people believe they are good guards for farms or other properties. This is not always the case.
“The dog can suddenly remember that it has been trained to bite and begin to bite, and if left home alone it can destroy the couch because it has to have something in its mouth,” said Walkowiak.
In Warsaw, mounted police officer Dariusz Malkowski said he would have to pay the stall fees for his 13-year-old black gelding Rywal if he would keep him after he retired.
A stable box near Warsaw can cost around 2,500 zlotys ($ 650 USD) per month. The average monthly pre-tax salary in Poland is around 5,500 zlotys (1,400 USD).
On patrol with Malkowski, Sgt. Katarzyna Kuczynska rides 13-year-old Romeo II or Romek, who Kuczynska can recognize by her voice.
“These animals worked for the state, they did their job well and they should be entitled to health care and decent retirement – with horses on green pastures,” said Kuczynska.