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Ed. Note: This article, which presents guidelines to help agencies and handlers define specific rules for handler compensation, first appeared in the pages of Police K-9 magazine. It is reprinted by permission of the publisher and presented in partnership with our friends at Police K-9 in an ongoing effort to provide handlers and non-handlers with the best information available on issues that affect any department that has, or is considering getting, K-9 capabilities. We wish to thank the good folks at Police K-9 for this article and those they will provide in the future.

By Bill Lewis, Special contributor to PoliceOne

How does one establish what is a reasonable amount of off-duty time to care for a police service dog and determine justifiable compensation? It probably won't surprise anyone associated with law enforcement to learn that differing opinions exist concerning the proper and reasonable method of compensating K-9 handlers for off-duty care and maintenance of their police service dogs. I currently am consulting on two California cases involving handlers' compensation. Those cases have given me the opportunity to research the matter and form various opinions and recommendations, as discussed in this article.

This article presents guidelines to help agencies and handlers define specific rules for handler compensation. A copy of the chart created by Sgt. Lewis to document off-duty K-9 care and maintenance will be forwarded via email without charge by sending a written request to [email protected].

Defining Care and Maintenance

No case law, generic template, or magic formula exists for defining off-duty care and maintenance compensation that will universally apply to every agency with a police K-9 program. Compensation should be based on justification.
Each agency should determine the specific activities that will be required of the K-9 handler for on-duty and off-duty care and maintenance and specify those activities in a written policy or operations manual. The agency should then confirm that each K-9 handler has read and understands the applicable policies and procedures and can provide the necessary care and maintenance.
According to the Department of Labor, bathing, brushing, exercising, feeding, grooming, cleaning of the dog's kennel or transport vehicle, administering medicine for illness, transporting the dog to and from an animal hospital or veterinarian, and training the dog at home are all compensable activities.
Off-duty care and maintenance activities identified by an agency and those activities identified by the Department of Labor as compensable may be different and should not be considered synonymous for the purpose of differentiating off-duty and on-duty activities. The Department of Labor does not specify which activities are to be conducted on duty or off duty; it only specifies which activities are compensable.
Each agency must determine which activities will be performed on or off duty and what the appropriate compensation will be. For example, an agency may decide that training is a compensable activity that will be performed only while on duty or during authorized overtime.
The care and maintenance of a police service dog by a new K-9 handler should not be presumed. The activities that constitute proper care for the police service dog should be identified, presented, and demonstrated (if necessary) to the new handler by a qualified police service dog trainer and K-9 supervisor during the basic training school or during the bonding period prior to basic training. It is the responsibility of the handler and the supervisor to understand exactly what type of care and maintenance is required, as well as a realistic estimated timeframe for performing those activities.

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