TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Retired Paws is a Tucson-area nonprofit group that helps pay medical bills for retired law enforcement K-9s all over the United States.
The organization was founded in 2011 by Bill Akins. He said at the time, it was one of the first groups dedicated to helping with medical bills for these animals.
"Our ultimate goal is to keep the dogs healthy, living a long, long happy retirement," Akins said.
Akins said due to the nature of their work, these dogs are more susceptible to getting sick or having injuries.
"They're getting a little sick more often than pets just because of the work environment they're in and the toll it does on the body," Akins said. "I'm not saying that thats a bad thing at all. They love this, they're bred for this."
Often times, the handler will take in the K-9 as a pet once the dog is retired. They also assume full responsibility for the medical bills.
"When you have a pet and you have a working dog, the bills amount much more quickly and the dogs just need more medical care more often," Akins said.
The dogs face everything from valley fever to muscle fatigue as well as hip and spine problems. Some require medication, frequent visits to the veterinarian and even surgery.
Since 2011, Retired Paws has helped more than 60 retired K-9s.
"I'm very happy to say to date, I have not turned down a single dog that's applied for assistance," Akins said.
Among them is Max, a retired dual purpose K-9 from the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
Nick Norris, a deputy with PCSD, worked with Max for about a year before Max retired from the department.
Norris took in Max as a family pet.
Max, like other law enforcement K-9s, worked rain or shine, in various environments.
"It doesn't matter if its snowing out or if it's 120 degrees out. if we get called out, we have to go," Norris said. "These dogs, they never call in sick, they're there for you all the time."
Max requires regular vet visits and medication for a thyroid condition. Luckily, he has no other major problems.
"When I applied for the unit, it's something I didn't really think about," Norris said. "They become an extension of your family...so just like it was your daughter or your son you're going to pay those medical expenses."
Norris said he heard about Retired Paws through another handler who had received help from the organization. He said the organization has been able to help him pay for Max's medical expenses since his retirement.
"I don't know if I'd be able to afford it without them," Norris said.
Retired Paws relies solely on donations. Akins said he has hopes that the organization will grow to become a household name and continue to give back to the four-legged members of law enforcement who have given their lives to protect their communities.
To find out how to apply for assistance or to donate, visit the Retired Paws website http://www.retiredpaws.org