It’s the sad truth that many service dogs, whether they are retiring from the military or law enforcement, are often mishandled when their careers are over. Whether it’s failing to bring them home after living overseas or refusing to give them to the handler to care for, the federal and local government sometimes just don’t do what’s right for the dogs once they’ve stopped serving the community. That’s what an officer in China realized when his former retired service dog, Sonny, contracted skin cancer.
Bai Yan, a 55-year-old police dog handler, has been training dogs since 2004 in the mountainous region of Hangzhou in the eastern Zhejiang province. He has trained 30 dogs so far and among them was Sonny, an Alsatian that had retired and been diagnosed with skin cancer. The veterinarian’s recommendation was to euthanize Sonny, but Yan couldn’t bear to part with his comrade so prematurely.
Instead, he took him home and gave him daily medicinal baths to keep his condition under control and lessen the dog’s pain. It was then that Yan realized pets need daily care just like humans during their golden years and he decided to build his own retirement home for his former comrades.
“They have accompanied me for over 10 years; you could say they are my work comrades, or even my family,” Yan told local media.
Over the past seven years, Yan has spent more than $ 150,000 in building the facility, which is complete with play yards, agility courses, and large kennels. Currently, 16 of his former service dogs reside at the facility and 26 dogs are buried in the small cemetery he made. He takes care of the dogs every day, providing them with fresh water and food as well as individually exercising and training them as though they are still working dogs.
Yan is still working as a police handler with local law enforcement but he wakes up every day at 4 AM so that he has time to be with the dogs and maintain his routine of visiting them three times per day. He even brings one dog to work with him each day so that they have a bit of excitement to break up their daily routine.
“I want to be there to make them happy in the last years of their lives,” Bai Yan said. “They have fought with me side by side for many years. They are just like my family, and I will take care of my family.”
Despite people offering to help with the bills or donate money to the home, Yan has refused, saying that the dogs are his family and therefore his responsibility. He is still haunted by the image of another police dog that helped inspire him to take action, one which was retired and living with his new owner in horrid conditions. He never wants another one of his service dogs to live in such squalor, and has assumed the position of a loyal and hardworking parent to ensure that all of his dogs are comfortable and cared for.