Donations sought to pay for retired police dog's medical bills

A dog that's worked thousands of hours to serve the public now needs hundreds of dollars to live.

Linda, a retired Charleston County Sheriff's Office dog, was diagnosed with thyroid carcinoma that required surgery and ongoing care.

Michelle Caminiti, the dog's current owner, can't afford to pay the cost, but she didn't want to give up on the dog, who retired in 2008.

'She's worked all her life. She hasn't had enough kisses or love,' Caminiti said.

Linda, 7, came to the Charleston County Sheriff's Office from U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2006 patrolling New York's JFK International Airport.

Linda worked at Charleston Harbor as a drug-detection dog searching containers as they passed in and out before her retirement at age 5.

Service dogs in the area usually are trained for a single purpose: to search out drugs, pick up a suspect's scent or sniff out suspicious chemicals. They go everywhere their handlers go, even on vacations.

During their service, the law-enforcement agency pays the costs of the dogs' food and veterinarian bills. But once a dog retires, its caretakers are responsible for all expenses related to the dog's care, which is typical of most departments in the area.

Sgt. Tim Blair, a former canine handler with the North Charleston Police Department, moved to supervising street patrol after his dog, Bertus, retired in July. He kept Bertus and said most retired dogs have suffered more wear and tear than a typical pet of the same age.

They've been worked hard jumping in and out of cars, said Blair, who compares the physical ailments to ones that a 40-year-old football player might feel. 'They're pretty worn out, they don't have much life left in them,' Blair said.

Typically, when service dogs retire, they continue to live with their handlers. But Caminiti agreed to care for Linda, a Belgian malinois, because the Charleston County deputy who had worked with Linda already had one retired dog at home as well as a new canine.

Caminiti took the dog under her wing in April 2008.

'I just wanted to give her a break,' Caminiti said.

Dr. Dan Bieck, a veterinarian at the Animal Medical Clinic of Goose Creek who's examined Linda, said he expected the dog's surgery to cost well over $1,000.

The surgery was performed Tuesday at Veterinary Medical Care in Mount Pleasant. It was unclear how much after-care would cost for Linda.

Dr. Kathryn Taylor of the Mount Pleasant animal hospital said she believed the mass in Linda's neck could be easily controlled with surgery and that it was small enough that she expected a good response.

But Linda would require ongoing medical care, she said.

Caminiti is asking for donations for Linda to go to the Animal Medical Clinic of Goose Creek, where Linda will receive post-surgery treatment.

Staffers at the Animal Medical Clinic of Goose Creek set up a jar on their counter to accept donations for people who can't afford veterinary care.

People who want to donate specifically toward Linda need to specify that at the time of the donation.

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