Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007

Retired police horses move to greener pastures

Park Police looking for potential homes for future equine retirees

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Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
Sgt. Rick Pelicano, a member of the mounted unit with the Montgomery County Division of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, walks Bear at the Maryland State Police stable in Sandy Spring. Bear is retiring.
The Montgomery County Division of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police is looking for a few good homes for some of the force’s most valuable members. They’ve spent years in the line of fire and shouldered some heavy loads, and now they’re ready for space to run around, a cozy stall and perhaps the occasional treat.

The agency is expecting many of its 17 police horses to be ready for retirement over the next five years, and it is trying to prepare for the deluge by creating a list of potential homes and caretakers for the horses, according to Cpl. Megan Lau.

‘‘What we’re trying to do is get a waiting list of homes,” Lau said. ‘‘...We’re going to be getting to a point where a lot of them will be retiring around the same time.”

Park police are currently trying to find homes for two of their veterans — Bear and Mac. The agency bought Bear from a Taylorsville farm, but the young horse can no longer do strenuous work because of his arthritis.

‘‘He’s a real good horse — it’s unfortunate that he’s had problems,” said Sgt. Rick Pelicano of the agency’s mounted unit.

Park police representatives were checking out a potential home for Bear last week — a West Virginia farm owned by the father of an officer who used to ride the horse. The practice is fairly common among mounted officers, and Pelicano himself once adopted a police horse that had retired out of Washington, D.C.

The agency is following up with potential homes for 19-year-old Mac, who the agency has had since 2002, Lau said. He had been used for training, but not everybody was able to ride the smaller horse.

Since officers often switch horses, park police try to stable animals that everybody can work with, Pelicano said.

‘‘We want to buy a horse that even our worst rider can ride,” he said.

Formed in 1953 by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the Montgomery County Division of the park police has 13 officers on horseback, Pelicano said. Most of the horses are stabled in Sandy Spring near the park police’s Woodlawn substation, though some also stay in Germantown. The stables are exclusively men-only, because gelded males are more attentive and less influenced by hormones.

In addition to patrolling more than 32,000 acres of county parkland, mounted officers make tracks outside Lakeforest mall, downtown Silver Spring, the county fair and the University of Maryland, College Park campus. The length of a police horse’s career depends on the age of the horse when the agency acquired him and other factors such as health problems. The agency tries to retire the horses while they’re still fit enough for light riding.

Some of the equine enforcers are donated by people who can no longer care for the animals, Pelicano said. Donors often take the horse back when it retires.

‘‘We’ve never not found a home for a horse,” he said.

Help a horse

For more information on giving a retired police horse a home, contact Cpl. Megan Lau at