Tonight marks the beginning of the last week Police Dog Hondo and I will officially work together; Hondo is being retired (to me) and I am moving on to another division.
Due to department structure and logistics, Vancouver Police dog handlers are assigned to the Dog Squad for the duration of working with one police K9. There are exceptions, of course, if a handler’s dog falls to illness or injury within the first few years of service, but the majority of handlers are assigned to the section for the working life of their police dog.
I knew all of this going in to the Dog Squad and it doesn’t make it any easier.
But in a way, it does.
All along, I knew Hondo would be retired some time in 2013, the year he turns 9. I mentally prepared myself for a career-shift, but I had not counted on his retirement happening as early as the beginning of January. However, with circumstances the way they are, January suits Hondo and I just fine.
As many of you alreay know, Hondo has endured his share of health issues. He’s allergic to almost everything except chicken, he suffered from a near fatal immune disease in 2010 (Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia), and he had his spleen removed in November of this year.
I was purposely vague about his spleen removal, as I was hoping we would return to duty for a short time before retirement. You see, I’m a woman who believes in tradition and the Dog Squad is steeped in the stuff. There are certain things that take place during the last week and shift worked by a dog team, and, if Hondo was able, they are experiences I did not want either of us to miss.
Apparently, Hondo’s able.
He made a full recovery from his spleen removal and you would never know he underwent major surgey at the beginning of November. He’s full of beans and feeling fine. He is working, playing and living like he always has – at full speed.
What Hondo doesn’t know, thank goodness, is that he has cancer.
It’s slow moving and there are no obvious signs – no tumors (except for the small tumor on his spleen, both of which were removed), no lesions, no lethargy. But the signs are floating around in Hondo’s blood, so every day with him is a gift. We may have the next couple of years together, or my dear companion may gone by this summer.
All things considered, this last week at work means both of us get to go out on a high note.
Hondo gets to chase after a few more bad guys, and I get to spend another few shifts with my four-legged partner doing what we love.
Retired handlers have said the time to leave the Dog Squad is when you still love it.
And I do. I love it dearly. It saddens me to think I’ll never work with Hondo again after Thursday. In fact, it makes me quite anxious, and the butterflies have been rioting in my stomach the last few days.
But I’m also aware life changes, and sometimes a direction you thought you were headed in isn’t the correct decision for the moment. Hondo’s getting on, and it’s time for him to enjoy a very well deserved retirement. He’s ready to crash out on the big fluffy dog bed in front of our fireplace, and to being self-assigned the job of keeping starlings off the bird feeders in our back yard.
Me? That’ll be another challenge.
I still want to put bad guys in jail, or at least teach other officers the skills they’ll need to do the job. My future is a bit uncertain, but one thing I know – I’ll be learning new skills and awakening others that have been dormant for years. That’s exciting.
“The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.”
-Lt. Col. Dave Grossman