A police officer living in Chilliwack whose career as a dog handler came to a halt when he was struck by a car is raising money and awareness for retired service dogs.
Const. Aaron Courtney said there was a “huge void” in his life following the hit-and-run he was victim to in March 2019 in Burnaby.
He was on-duty and standing on a sidewalk while training his dog Kato when a car hit him and another officer and then fled. The two officers were taken to Royal Columbian Hospital and the suspect vehicle was found abandoned several blocks away. Kato was inside a truck parked next to them at the time of the collision and was not injured.
“That was our last dog day for us,” Courtney said.
He’s been with Abbotsford Police Department for 19 years and was a dog handler and trainer for about 16 of those years. He’s currently back with APD doing light-duty work, but said his mental health was affected as a result of the incident.
“(Being a dog handler) is not really a job, it is a lifestyle because you bring it home with you,” he said. “It’s unlike any other job in policing. It’s not like just bringing your cellphone home, it’s totally different. You’ve got these dogs with you, they’re part of your family.”
When he realized his career as a dog handler was in jeopardy, he wondered how he could stay involved with police dogs.
Courtney and his partner Sgt. Jason Martens, along with their wives, started up Support Retired Legends in 2020 in honour of retired canine heroes. It’s a business where they sell apparel and coffee with part proceeds going to Ned’s Wish, a Canadian charity which provides financial support to help pay for the medical bills of retired police and military dogs. They have a pop-up event happening in Chilliwack on Saturday, Feb. 26.
“Many people are not aware but the majority of police dogs in Canada receive no pension or medical assistance when they retire,” Courtney said.
Dogs have top-notch care while they’re working, but as soon as they retire, they are signed over to whoever takes them (usually it’s the handler) and the owner is then responsible for any medical bills.
The problem is, the dog will be denied certain insurance coverage based on pre-existing injuries or the cost of insurance is simply too expensive because it’s a senior dog with “a lot of mileage,” Courtney said.
“The short answer is, it’s not cost effective.”
He said it’s not fair that the owners have to cancel trips or take out a loan to pay for the retired dog’s medical bills.
“If there are people out there with these retired heroes that want to access funds so they don’t have to make those decisions, we take the decisions out of their hands,” Courtney said. “We give them help because they’re doing these dogs a favour.”
It takes a dog about two years to become a fully trained police dog. They work for about seven years and retire around the age of eight or nine. During their career, they’re out saving people including kids, finding evidence, and saving thousands or millions of dollars in investigative time.
When the dogs track someone from a break-and-enter, “they’ve pieced that file together for the investigator,” Courtney said.
“I think they don’t get the recognition they deserve on what they actually do and how well they do it. And they don’t ask for anything. The dogs just do it for love, a ball, a treat.”
Since the end of 2020, Courtney and Martens have been raising funds for Ned’s Wish – which is basically a bank account for the retired service dogs – through the sale of their Support Retired Legends apparel and K9 Coffee.
Their organic coffee is roasted in the Lower Mainland and there are many details in the coffee packaging in honour of the dogs. The bags are black and tan which represents the colours of a German shepherd’s coat, the name of each coffee blend has a meaning to do with dogs, and the photos on the packaging are all of retired canines.
Each bag contains 365 grams of coffee. Why such a random number?
“Every day of the year they’re ready to work,” Courtney said.
He and Martens will have a pop-up shop this weekend where folks can try the coffee and purchase merchandise like shirts, hoodies, hats and more at Winks (45657 Stevenson Rd.) on Saturday, Feb. 26 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are plans to have retired dog Dezi at the event as well.
Support Retired Legends was started to fulfill two main goals: to educate people about police dogs and their lack of pensions; and to raise money for Ned’s Wish.
But there’s been another upside to Support Retired Legends.
“I feel like I’m helping and contributing to something and staying involved in a program that was more or less stolen from me through the accident,” Courtney said. “On a personal level, it’s been mentally and physically healing for me.”
In addition to the pop-up event on Saturday, people can find Support Retired Legends apparel and K9 Coffee at two Chilliwack businesses: Joint Force Tactical and Fergie’s Doggie Delight Pet Bakery. Or, go online to supportretiredlegends.com for more info.