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How to Adopt a Retired Service Dog

Older K9 heroes need heroes, too. Learn how to adopt a retired military service dog whose working days are over.

May 19, 2023 5 min read
How to Adopt a Retired Service Dog

If you have ever wanted to adopt a retired service dog, you are not alone.

American Humane tells us that 400 military service dogs are retired and adopted by forever homes each year. In addition, approximately 4,000 police, search and rescue, and personal service dogs are rehomed annually.

Retired Military Dogs Make Great Companion Dogs

Adoption into a permanent home rewards these very special dogs for a lifetime of service. In return, retired military service dogs have a lot to offer their owners:

  • Retired service dogs are usually extremely well socialized. They have been trained to be calm in public and can interact with all kinds of people and other kinds of pets.
  • Retired service dogs can be retrained for their "retirement jobs." They make excellent seeing eye dogs and hearing ear dogs, and companion dogs for owners with stability, mobility, or emotional issues.
  • Retired service dogs are used to being appreciated. They thrive on praise and affection, and form deep bonds of attachment with their owners.

This isn’t to say there is never any downside to adopting a military service dog. Some dogs are retired because of health issues. However, while these health issues may affect their performance on the job, they do not usually affect their lives as pets. Some dogs may also work until late in the canine lifespan. Most retired K9 service dogs are between 7 and 10 years old, but some work until age 10, 11, or more.

How to Find a Retired Military Service Dog

The good news about finding an older service dog for adoption is that they are in great demand. Essentially, every retiring military service dog finds a forever home. However, you won’t find retiring service dogs at animal shelters.

The challenge of finding a service dog to adopt is that you either need to know someone who works with one, or you’ll need to ask around.

Organizations That Train Service Dogs

Service dog training organizations will occasionally know of dogs that are being retired or whose owners are no longer able to care for them. You can inquire with Assistance Dogs International, Canine Companions for Independence, Dogs for Better Lives, and Paws 4 People

If you don't find a dog to adopt with them, you can check with Dogs Without Borders, Service Dogs, Inc., and Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers.

Be prepared to wait. Guide Dogs for America currently has a six-year waiting list and is not taking new applications.

Consider Adopting a Service Dog Dropout

Another possibility for finding a wonderful pet is adopting a dog who did not pass all of her service training courses. These dogs are well socialized, respond well to commands, respect people, and behave well around other dogs and in public.

Maybe they lacked some critical skill for doing specialized service work. But they can make loyal and helpful companion dogs. Some of the organizations mentioned above maintain separate lists for failed service dogs that were not able to pass their training. It doesn't hurt to ask. You can also inquire at your local police, fire, and emergency services departments.

Interested in a Golden Retriever?

Canine Companions for Independence trains Golden Retrievers as service dogs for people who are blind or deaf or who have medical conditions that occasionally require intervention, such as diabetes or seizure disorders.

Golden Retrievers are not for everyone. They are large dogs that can weigh as much as 70 pounds.

Golden Retrievers also need daily exercise. If they don't get their playtime, they can become chewy. They shed a lot. Golden Retrievers that are made available for adoption will have been screened for hip dysplasia, and raised as puppies in a way that ensures they are likely to reach adulthood free of the disease. However, they may still be prone to cataracts in old age.

If you can provide for your Golden Retriever’s needs, however, they make wonderfully affectionate, loyal, and intelligent pets and companion dogs. They are able to adapt to most living conditions and become a part of their human family very quickly. 

Retired Military Dogs v. Retired Service Dogs

One thing to remember in looking for the perfect dog to adopt is that if you want a retired service dog, or a retired military dog, you need to be specific. "Retired working dogs" include dogs in multiple categories, including the military, police, search and rescue, and personal service dogs. 

Sometimes, the adoption process only takes a few weeks. With some organizations, however, you may be on a waiting list for as long as a year. Many people may also be interested in adopting the same dog. If you are willing to take a dog on short notice, you may get a dog that didn't work out with another family and now needs a new home.

The Cost of Adopting a Retired Service Dog

The cost of adopting a retired service dog typically runs $200 to $500. There are situations in which the referring organization may offer a dog for a lower fee because their kennels are full. Or, a rescue organization may ask for more to make sure the dog is going to new owners who can afford to keep it.

If you live in California, your adopted dog will need to have a checkup with the vet. No matter where you live, it is a good idea to make sure your dog is microchipped (24 hours in advance so your dog will be registered with local authorities before you take him home with you). All the dog's immunizations should also be up to date, and you will need to have a bed, toys, food and water bowls, and pet food on hand.

It is always a good idea to carry pet insurance on all the animals you adopt. Pet Assure offers immediate discounts with participating veterinary healthcare providers, as well as reimbursement for routine pet care from any veterinarian in the US.

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