A B.C.-based company that sells coffee, apparel and swag to support the healthy, happy retirement of police dogs has taken off in its first year of operations.
Co-founders Jason Martens, Andrea Martens and Aaron Courtney say police departments, paramedics, fire departments and the public have rallied together to make ‘Support Retired Legends’ a successful and impactful enterprise.
“It was originally only supposed to start off as a fundraiser, and it became so popular that evolved into a full company,” Andrea said. “We slowly transitioned to having a bunch of products and things have just been flying off the shelf, it’s been great.”
Support Retired Legends was founded in 2020 after Tyson, one of two retired police dogs the Martens care for, needed lifesaving surgery due to a severe infection in his leg.
There is no form of pension or assistance for the medical bills of most retired service dogs in Canada, since insurance isn’t effective for older dogs — some with preexisting injuries. Tyson’s medical bill was about $10,000.
“Being my partner for five years, there was no way I wasn’t going to pay that, but we had to figure out how we were going to pay for it, and that’s kind of how Support Retired Legends was born,” explained Jason Martens, a police dog handler of 12 years. “From there it snowballed.”
In just one year, the business expanded from coffee and sweaters to toques, drinkware, decals, socks, pet supplies and more — about 80 products altogether.
A portion of all sales support retired police dogs across the country, and the business is a partner of Ned’s Wish, another organization that supports the medical wellbeing of the furry heroes.
A police dog’s retirement is always “bitter-sweet,” said Jason and Courtenay, since the dogs themselves don’t seem keen to retire. Most retire after six or seven years with input from their handlers and a veterinarian, when needed.
“When you have to leave the house in the morning and you have a new police dog, the old police dog looks at you with a pretty sour face,” said Jason.
“They still think they’re two years old and soon as they have to retire they don’t want to have anything to do with it.
“They spend so much time with you, you spend so many hours training these dogs to get them to think like you and go to files and work the way you expect them to,” added Courtney, who has been on a Lower Mainland K9 unit for 15 years.
“We retire them for their health, their age … but they still want it in their heart … it’s all they want to do is work, save people, help people and please us as handlers, and help their communities.”
Tyson received his lifesaving surgery and lived a happy, healthy final year of life.
He passed away in December after being diagnosed with cancer in November at the age of 13. He served and protected Lower Mainland communities for close to six years and retired in 2016.
The company recently launched an initiative called ‘Fur Legend Friday’ on its Instagram account, honouring a living or passed service dog with a picture submitted by their handler or a friend, and a caption about their service.
Stars honoured so far include Rook, who tracked and apprehended a wanted criminal, and Koda, who once saved someone from drowning by pulling them out of the Fraser River.
“These are dogs that find a missing children or a missing grandparent and I feel they do a lot for us, and they just don’t get the recognition that they deserve,” said Andrea.