Retired Guelph Police dog Charger is "recovering quite well for an older fellow" after undergoing surgery for a slipped disk that left his hind legs semi-paralyzed.
Charger was in the service until he was 10 – an exceptionally long career for a police dog, as they typically retire around age seven.
“He started young and he was just the pinnacle of health throughout his whole career, and he was capable and eager to keep working,” said Sgt. Andrew Crowe, who has been with Charger since July of 2011 when he was just a puppy.
“I had him before my own family. He was around before my wife and kids… going to work with him every day and having him at home every day, he becomes your right hand. It’s a pretty special relationship,” he said.
Some notable moments in his career include receiving citations from the USPCA.
“One of them was for a track he did where a stolen car had taken off and tried to run over an officer,” Crowe said. After searching for seven-and-a-half kilometres, the suspect was located and “apprehended by Charger.”
Charger also found missing and fleeing people and evidence, including one instance where he found two suspects who were hiding – barefoot – in a forest during the winter, where temperatures were sitting around minus 32 with the wind chill.
After retiring in 2020, Crowe said 12-year-old Charger has struggled to slow down.
“He still wants to come to work with me every day, and cries a little bit when I leave him behind. It’s a little bit heartbreaking, but we still get out for walks. He likes to jump in the pool occasionally and we try to let him relax as much as he will let himself relax,” he said.
But police work is hard on the body, and many retired police dogs end up with chronic conditions that result in injury.
“There’s a lot of running, there’s a lot of jumping, there’s a lot of stress on the body,” he said. “It becomes a chronic issue over the course of their life.”
For Charger, all it took was one wrong move for a disk in his back to slip, pinching a nerve in his spinal cord that cut off communication to the hind legs, leaving him paralyzed in one leg and partially paralyzed in the other.
“It's sort of a result of many years of being worked in a high energy capacity. And then it was kind of like the straw that broke the camel's back… He moved in the wrong way, the disk ruptured, and it caused the issues with his spine.”
Crowe was shocked, the paralysis came on so abruptly.
“Five minutes before, he was trotting around the backyard like he normally does. And then just before I went to work, he couldn’t stand, and was sitting with his legs out funny, there was no sensation in them.”
It happened on Monday. By Friday he was in surgery, and on Sunday he was back home. He still can’t walk, but Crowe said he’s getting better each day.
In the meantime, he has a harness to help him get around without the use of his hind legs, and is being pampered by his family.
“When it happened on Monday his spirits were very low. He looked very confused and very defeated. It's not a look I've ever seen on his face ever before,” Crowe said. “And since the surgery, he's not supporting his own weight yet, but he is improving day by day. He is starting to get that walking motion back and his spirits are back to normal.”
Crowe added Charger, as always, is eager to go as fast as he can and as hard as he can.
“His determination is unbelievable,” he said.
While active police and military dogs are typically covered by pet insurance, once the dog is retired, the financial burden is left to the owner.
“We're aware that the costs become our own. However, that is a large and unforeseen expense that isn't necessarily manageable by everyone,” he said.
Along with the surgery, Charger needed blood work and chest X-rays to make sure he was healthy enough for anethesia, as well as an MRI to confirm the problem was a slipped disk.
Fortunately, the surgery was covered by Ned’s Wish, a charity that provides financial support for the healthcare costs of retired police and military dogs. But to offset the costs, and help other retired police and military dogs, they’ve launched a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $9,000.
So far, it’s raised just over $4,000.