- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A retiring police K-9 escaped the possibility of euthanization Tuesday after Albuquerque police received requests from animal shelters and former law enforcement officers to take him.

Meanwhile, animal welfare advocates said state law requires police to pursue options other than euthanizing for aging service dogs.

Police intend to turn over the K-9 named Rex to a sanctuary in California that specializes in caring for retired military dogs, police spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said.

Rex was a trained military dog before becoming part of the Albuquerque police K-9 unit in 2013.

Espinoza declined to provide the name of the sanctuary, saying officials still must fully vet the organization.

The police department received more than a dozen calls from former officers across the state trained to handle police dogs as well as from shelters across the country, Espinoza said.

“We did have quite an outpouring of support from sanctuaries that wanted to work with us,” she said.

The California sanctuary emerged as the best apparent option for Rex because it is run by military veterans trained to work with K-9s.

Rex, a 9-year-old Malinois, appeared in video footage from a stand-off last year in which officers shot James Boyd, a homeless man camping illegally in the Sandia Mountain foothills. The footage has been heavily scrutinized, and two officers have been ordered to stand trial on second-degree murder charges in the killing.

Rex’s handler, Officer Scott Weimerskirch, testified during a hearing last month that the officers saved his life when they shot Boyd, who had two knives in hand.

On Monday, Rex’s fate captured public interest when police said they were weighing options for the dog, including putting him to sleep, because Weimerskirch had retired from the force.

With his handler’s departure, Rex can no longer remain a part of the K-9 unit because he is too old to bond, train and work with another police officer, Espinoza said. Weimerskirch cannot keep the dog at home because he has a small child.

Police dogs’ highly specialized training often can hinder their prospects of transitioning to lives as family pets.

“We don’t want him to live in a kennel situation the rest of his life, and we don’t want him in a home where the owners don’t understand what he is communicating and then turn him back into animal services,” Espinoza said, explaining why police were considering euthanization.

A statement from an animal welfare group, however, called into question why police would consider euthanization when state law requires law enforcement agencies to offer ownership of a retiring service dog to a charity or sell the dog to a person capable of providing a good home, such as a former K-9 officer.

“Rex deserves a dignified, peaceful retirement - not to be euthanized at the end of his service - and New Mexico state law guarantees him a chance for exactly that,” said Laura Bonar, chief program and policy officer for Animal Protection of New Mexico.

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