'They are like our children' - Sniffer dogs given medals during retirement ceremony in Colombia
German shepherds, pit bulls and golden retrievers were among those honoured
Fourteen Colombian police dogs have been given medals and diplomas as they were retired after years of service sniffing out drugs, bombs and bodies.
Some of the German shepherds, pit bulls and golden retrievers were treated to special scented baths on Friday before the retirement ceremony in an auditorium in the capital, Bogota.
Among the retired dogs was Canela, a 12-year-old Labrador who helped investigators uncover 65 mass graves containing the victims of paramilitary violence, and Negra, a pit bull who helped detect several tonnes of cocaine in her eight-year career.
Officials plan to put the dogs up for adoption, placing them with families who will help them live out their retirement in peace.
Some dogs could also be taken in by their former handlers. “We’ve shared a lot of things together and they are like our children,” said David Maldonado, Negra’s handler.
Police dogs in Colombia often participate in dangerous missions, sniffing out landmines for officers who eradicate coca fields, or retrieving bodies in combat zones.
Sombra, which is Spanish for shadow, was recently relocated from her base on the country’s Caribbean coast after drug traffickers, angry over her success at sniffing out cocaine shipments, offered a bounty of $7,000 (€6,000) for her head.
Hundreds of dogs serve with Colombia’s police and military. A canine school run by the police near Bogota also provides training for dogs and handlers from other Latin American countries.
Colombia’s police dogs are usually retired when they reach eight or nine years old, and in the past they were then kept in kennels where police vets provided them with food, play and medical treatment.
But recently, Colombia’s police have been looking for families to adopt the dogs. Earlier this month, the anti-narcotics police put up 50 of its retired dogs for adoption.
Adopting families must go through a rigorous screening process to ensure the sniffer dogs are not put to work for private security companies.
“These dogs are very obedient and they are well trained,” said Jeymy Bucuru, a vet with Colombia’s anti-narcotics police. “But we also want them to be able to rest.”