The police horse has a long history in law enforcement throughout the world. Canada is no different, be it the Toronto Mounted Unit or the internationally-renowned Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) or “Mounties.” The horses used to patrol streets, control unruly crowds or act as community police ambassadors, work long and hard. But what happens when they retire?
The answer varies by region, country and unit. In New South Wales, Australia, the retired horses of the local mounted unit are rehomed according to strict standards set by the police force. According to the Facebook page “We require the property to have plenty of feed, or supplementary feeding of the horse, good fencing and shelter and the ability to cohabit with other horses. There are variances on whether the horses are ridden or not, but in most cases only on minimum times, i.e. once a fortnight at the most, dependent upon their age, whether they have retired due to medical issues etc. In most cases often we stipulate no riding for the horses.”
It is also common among mounted units to ask the police officer who rode the particular horse if they wish to keep it.
But in Poland, the police mounted unit is going one step further to ensure that every horse and dog used in police work will get the quality retirement it deserves. Currently, the animals are rehomed with no safeguards in place. But the service members themselves put forth an argument that the animals deserved better, and now Poland’s Interior Ministry has proposed new legislation giving police horses and dogs official status, and paid retirement to help cover the often costly care bills their new owners face.
According to a report in the Associated Press, Poland’s Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski called the draft law a “moral obligation” and said in an interview that he expected it to receive unanimous backing when presented in Parliament for approval later this year.
“More than one human life has been saved, more than one dangerous criminal caught thanks to the animals in service,” he told AP in February.
The report said that the new law would affect around 1,200 dogs and over 60 horses currently in service. Each year, approximately 10% of the animals are retired, according to the Interior Ministry.
The bill would also confirm the unwritten rule that the animals’ handlers have priority in keeping them before they’re offered up for adoption.
But more importantly, it would extend state responsibility for the animals into their retirement time and secure financial support for the owners.
Take Slawomir Walkowiak, 50, a former policeman who runs Poland’s only shelter for retired police service animals, named The Veterans’ Corner. He said that regular state payments would lessen worry over the cost of care which, like most horse expenses, can reach well into thousands of dollars a month.
According to the AP story, a box stall near Warsaw will set an owner back 2,500 zlotys ($650) a month. The average pre-tax monthly salary in Poland is some 5,500 zlotys ($1,400). This is a stiff expense on a police officer’s salary, so state funding might encourage more officers to keep the horses if it were more affordable.
Sgt. Katarzyna Kuczynska, who rides 13-year-old Romeo II, or Romek, who can identify Kuczynska by her voice, concluded, “These animals have worked for the state, they have done their jobs well and they should be entitled to health care and proper retirement — on green pastures in the case of horses.”