The UK’s leading police dog charity fears families who take on retired canine heroes may be left with no choice but to give their beloved pets up due to ‘alarming soaring costs’.
The Thin Blue Paw Foundation – a charity that supports, celebrates and protects working and retired service dogs across the UK – has called on the public to help them ensure the country’s retired canine heroes have access to medication, therapy and life-saving treatment when they need it.
Thin Blue Paw Foundation trustee Kieran Stanbridge said: “These are unprecedented times and we’ve seen alarming soaring costs across all aspects of life which is having a huge impact on families with pets. Rescue charities are reporting increases in relinquishment and abandonment, and owners are beginning to fret about how they’ll continue to care for their beloved animals.
“We’re particularly concerned about how the cost of living crisis might affect police dog handlers, police staff and members of the public who adopt former police dogs when they retire from service.
“Not only do they need to consider the normal costs associated with caring for a dog – which, at a time like now, are rocketing – but they also need to bear in mind that it is almost impossible to insure an ex-police dog and that many of these dogs have serious and expensive medical conditions as a result of their strenuous working lives.”
The PDSA* found that it can cost in excess of £85 a month to take care of a large breed of dog, such as a German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois or Labrador, three of the most popular breeds for use as general purpose and detection dogs.
The Thin Blue Paw Foundation, based in Hertfordshire, was set up to help owners who adopt retired police dogs manage these costly bills. The charity, which has 300 ex-police dogs registered, provides financial support to help owners pay for monthly therapy, regular medication, and one-off treatment and surgery.
“We set up the charity to ensure that these unsung heroes could access the very best in veterinary care to ensure that they could have long, happy retirements and would get pioneering treatment and medication to manage conditions and injuries which, so often, are due to the hard life they’ve led working to fight crime and keep the public safe,” Kieran added.
“It’s the least we can do after all these incredible dogs have done for us and our communities. And it’s more important now than ever. We would hate to hear that an owner may be left with a heartbreaking decision on having to give up their beloved dog or even consider euthanasia because they can’t afford the treatment they need to have a good quality of life.
“We’d appeal to the public to help us continue our vital work to provide the lifeline that these dogs deserve after everything they’ve done for us. We know times are hard, but if you can afford to make a one-off donation or sign up as a regular donor, then we’d be hugely grateful.”
Case study 1: Orson, Essex
Eight-year-old German Shepherd Orson (pictured above) worked for Kent Police for six years until his retirement in 2020, after being diagnosed with spondylitis (arthritis in the spine) and prostatitis. He was adopted by Peter Halsey, from Essex, who managed to get him insured but the firm refused to cover medication to manage his conditions as they were pre-existing.
The Thin Blue Paw agreed to cover the costs of his medication to ease the financial pressure on Peter and his family. Peter said this had been a ‘lifeline’ for them, particularly with the costs of living now rising.
Peter and his wife, who is disabled, added: “We were shocked when we discovered that retired police dogs don’t receive any support from the force they served but, thankfully, the Thin Blue Paw Foundation covers the costs of medication and treatment Orson needs, removing a lot of anxiety from us. My wife is disabled and we do not have spare money to spend.
“They cover £50 a month and a six-monthly £180 bill for us, but these costs are constantly rising. If he needed surgery we would not be able to afford it.”
Case study 2: Wolfie, West Midlands
German Shepherd Wolfie (pictured above), nine, was partnered with West Midlands dog handler – now Sergeant – Louse McMcMullon (pictured together above) after she returned to work following ill health. In 2018, they were chasing armed robbers when their vehicle left the road and crashed into a tree, catching fire.
Louise, from Worcester, managed to drag herself and PD Wolfie – both badly injured – from the car to safety. Both were off work while they recovered and, eventually, returned to work. But just six weeks in Wolfie was retired from service after showing signs of PTSD from the trauma of the accident, and he went to live with Louise as a pet.
The large 43kg dog, with life-long injuries following his crash, was now suffering from arthritis and his care was now the sole responsibility of Louise; until she signed him up to the Thin Blue Paw which pays for his monthly pain injection at £185 a go.
Louise said: “We’re already having to address our outgoings as a family due to the increase in energy bills, fuel and National Insurance and tax. We would have had to had serious discussions about whether we could have afforded Wolfie’s ongoing care plan if it wasn’t for the support of the Thin Blue Paw. His care plan costs hundreds of pounds every month which is now very much needed to keep us afloat at home.”
Retired police dogs are an ‘added’ responsibility
Kieran added: “Having any dog is a huge responsibility and a big financial commitment. Dogs need food, toys, veterinary care and day care or boarding when you’re at work or away.
“Police dogs, however, have an added layer of responsibility because they receive no support from the police force they once served with once they retire and they’re often uninsurable due to their previous working lives. Having spent years doing a physically demanding job and exposing themselves to injuries and dangerous circumstances on the job also means they’re highly likely to come with complex health conditions and expensive problems.”
In a bid to ease the pressure on the canine heroes’ owners, natural dog food brand Barking Heads – one of Thin Blue Paw’s corporate partners – has pledged to supply every Thin Blue Paw dog with free food for the rest of their lives.
Barking Heads spokesperson Claire Dunford said: “We are beyond proud to feed the heroic service dogs of the Thin Blue Paw. Our friendship with dogs is one of humanity’s greatest privileges, and for service animals who have worked hard to keep their handlers and the public safe, we wanted to say an extra thank you. We hope that by providing some nutritious dinners it helps these heroes to have the retirements that they deserve.”To help the Thin Blue Paw Foundation support more retired service dogs, please visit: https://donate.thinbluepaw.org.uk.