Saturday's K9 Expo at The Armed Forces Military Museum highlighted what you may not know about working dogs: how they cope with retirement and health care issues.
Largo police officer Jeff Rogers has been working with his K9 partner “Fritz” for two and a half years. Their bond is tight.
“Our school is four months long, 40 hours a week. It’s a lot of bonding and obedience,” Rogers said.
It has to be. Fritz and Rogers work the night shift, chasing bad guys through back yards and sometimes over fences.
“It’s a very dangerous job. They (suspects) are gonna see me before I see them.”
But he demonstrated as he threw a wrench during a game of fetch with Fritz, it is possible to mix work with pleasure. Rogers explained the job from the Fritz's perspective.
“It’s like an adult game of hide and go seek. (We might have to) swim across a lake, or jump fences,” he said.
Rogers went on to say that sometimes he has to boost Fritz over the taller fences. But he is worth his weight when it comes to catching suspects.
“He does human scent work and evidence recovery and narcotics detection,” Rogers said. “Obedience is important.”
Across the sunny parking lot, two black Labrador retrievers sniff visitors’ hands. Chris Kulow and his wife Sheri, of Clearwater, are fostering the dogs through Lab Rescue of Florida until they find a good home.
“Slider was picked up as a stray. He had heartworm and had the treatment,” Kulow said. “It can be painful.”
Kulow said that Lab Rescue often finds homes for dogs who come from breeders in the panhandle region.
“Backyard breeders sell what they can and give the rest to shelters.” Kulow said it’s tough giving a dog to the adoptive family, but getting to make the decision about who gets the animal makes it easier.
“We get emails from the adoptive parents – they keep us up,” he said.
A booth nearby displayed pictures of military and service dogs who need help during their golden years. David Ambler, of Largo, said it’s a real concern.
“Dogs don’t get benefits when they retire. The handler typically keeps the dog but needs assistance (with the dog’s care),” Ambler said. The non-profit group Retired K9Heroes is planning a benefit concert at Ferg’s Sports Bar on Oct. 22. Retired K9s will be there and other dogs are welcome.
William Puckett, Armed Forces Military Museum gift store manager and K9 Expo coordinator, said it’s important for the general public to have a chance to see and learn about working dogs. (The purpose of the Expo was) “to show how our local police and how our military K9 units work and the training that is needed.”
“People like animals," Puckett said. The K9 Expo brings awareness to what our service dogs need, he added.
This was the museum's first K9 Expo. They plan to have another next fall.
“Maybe (we’ll) collect items for some local shelters and show that a lot of talented animals are found in shelters," he said.