Police dogs spend all day working with handlers. They typically live together.
But when law enforcement K-9s in Texas have retired, they haven’t always gone home with their handlers. Laws in the nation’s second-largest state treated the dogs as surplus public property that, like firearms or police cars taken out of commission, needed to be auctioned off, donated to charity, or destroyed.
That changed Tuesday, when voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that allows dogs, horses, or other law enforcement animals to be adopted at no cost by their handlers or other ‘‘qualified’’ caretakers.
It was backed by the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, whose members were regularly perplexed by how to handle dog retirement legally — complying with laws that viewed the animals as surplus — and ethically, in ways that made sense to officers who view K-9 partners as family and departments who mark dogs’ retirements with ceremonies.
‘‘It’s the right thing to do,’’ said Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner. ‘‘There’s been a lot of great dogs with great handlers, and the right thing should have been done by them. But it’s better late than never.’’
The change is one of the latest examples of the nuance legislators and courts are bringing to laws that view animals as property. Some animal rights activists have pushed for more, including legal personhood for animals, but smaller shifts have already changed animals’ status to something different from appliances — or police equipment.