North Carolina may soon cover veterinarian costs for police dogs after they retire from serving in law enforcement.

The House State Personnel Committee approved a bill on Thursday that would provide a maximum of $1,500 in financial support annually for certified retired police dogs. The Retired Law Enforcement Canine Fund would receive $300,000 in recurring funds from the General Fund, mirroring similar legislation passed in Florida in 2022.

Law enforcement dogs provide crucial assistance in keeping communities safe. They are pivotal in search and rescue operations, sniffing out drugs, and saving lives. Legislators developed the bill with the United States Police Canine Association and the Sheriffs’ Association. Supporters of the bill said it’s a small repayment to the dogs that truly benefit North Carolina.

“A good dog is worth its weight in gold, but when they retire, I know that it becomes an issue for a lot of the handlers,” said Rep Dudley Greene, R-Avery. “They end up oftentimes seeing those dogs through till the end of their life, and oftentimes it becomes their responsibility to pay for the care of these dogs. I know this will go a long way to encourage people to stay in a canine position or to take on a canine position if they know they’re not going to be saddled with that responsibility.”

With full backing from the Department of Public Safety, the bill would provide funding for veterinarian services, including wellness examinations, testing and treatment of illnesses, medications and vaccinations, emergency care, and surgeries. The canine’s owner would be able to apply for reimbursement of veterinary services with the Department of Public Safety.

“We all know these dogs go above and beyond,” said Rep. Karl Gillespie, R-Cherokee. “They save lives, they save our officers’ lives, they save people’s lives, they sniff out drugs. They do all of those things. And this bill is a very small step in providing some benefit to those dogs that provide years of benefit to the citizens of North Carolina.”

In attendance was law enforcement canine Zeus, a Belgian Malinois who has been serving for four years with Andrew Knight, a trooper with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. Zeus serves on the criminal interdiction team and assisted in the recovery of over $1.5 million in cash in 2021 alone. One of his largest seizures was 403 pounds of marijuana and 10 kilos of cocaine that was located in the axle of a tractor-trailer. 

“We’re here on behalf of the Patrol and other canine handlers to say thank you,” said Knight. “These dogs are essential to our job, and we certainly appreciate what you guys are doing for them.”

The committee was also introduced to Jip, a nine-year-old black Labrador Retriever who retired in January. She has been involved in over 400 drug arrests across North Carolina. Throughout her career, she has played an integral part in locating approximately 50 pounds of marijuana, one pound of fentanyl, trafficking amounts of cocaine, and approximately $1.2 million in cash. 

The legislation was referred to the House Appropriations Committee.