The Americas

After long fight, police dogs in Mexico no longer put to sleep upon retirement

Deputy Officer Jorge Luis López and Rosty.

Deputy Officer Jorge Luis López and Rosty.  (FoxNews.com/Gardenia Mendoza)

Frolicking in the Police K-9 Unit headquarters’ backyard, Rosty takes in all the love of his longtime handler and friend, Deputy Officer Jorge Luis López, unaware of his good luck: the veteran Labrador belongs to the first generation of Mexican police dogs that will not be put to sleep upon retirement.

Eleven-year-old Rosty is one of nine canines that retired last year in Mexico after a life fighting crime and whose heroism was, for the first time, recognized in a formal ceremony with honor medals and all.

“They deserve it,” said Víctor Hugo Martínez, the unit’s director, to FoxNews.com. “For almost their entire lives they’ve done nothing but serve the nation, and they’ve been the best companions.”

Up until now, Mexico’s K-9 dogs were put down at a certain age because police feared they would end in the hands of drug traffickers and criminals who could exploit their talents. The policy was finally changed at the insistence of the Mexican Dog-Lovers Federation, benefiting the nearly 200 dogs currently serving in the unit.

“If we’re careful with the adoption process, we can check out the families [looking to adopt] and make sure they can give them a good home,” said José Luis Pairo, who runs the Federacion Canofila Mexicana (FCM), the organization in charge of finding the dogs a home.

Pairo said that, once adopted, the dogs will continue to be monitored by FCM staff and the Federal Police.

The nine K-9s up for adoption are between 12 and 15 years old, which roughly translates to 84 and 105 human years. They were donated by the U.S. government as puppies and soon became masters in searching for drugs, dead bodies, explosives and even and cash -- Rosty got legend status when he detected $3 million in an old abandoned car in 2011.

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But ties between dogs and their handlers run deep, forged on much more than performance and a sense of pride.

Officer Martínez remembers Acapulco 2011, when the former tourist haven had started to spiral down into one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. Deployed on a special mission there, he and his dog Tom got to spend New Year’s Eve in a hotel.

“We gave each other a big hug; I’d never felt such affection for any living creature,” he said.

As much as K-9 dog handlers would like to adopt their loyal four-legged partners, they are encouraged not to so they can devote all their canine abilities and energy to the newcomers.

“The federal police K-9 handlers will be getting other dogs and continuing with their work, so it's best if they don't keep their old K-9 companions,” said Pairo.

He said the FCM has been getting an average of 40 calls a day inquiring about the pooches and he hopes to finalize the adoption process by February.

“It will be so sad to see her go,” said Deputy Officer Alfredo Aldape speaking of his beloved Lucy, with whom he spent the last five years through thick and thin.

But he said he understands it’s best if they get to be adopted by families with the time, space and financial means to provide them with the top-notch retirement they deserve.

“They worked hard,” said Aldape. “They deserve a happy ending in someone’s yard, soaking up the sun and being spoiled.”

Gardenia Mendoza is a freelance reporter in Mexico City.