It’s not often that the retiree is the most energetic character at his or her own retirement party, but that was certainly the case Thursday for a veteran member of the Lompoc Police Department.

Employees from throughout the department visited an upstairs conference room at the Lompoc Police Station early Thursday afternoon to enjoy burgers and snacks and say goodbye to Hank, an 8-year-old black lab who had worked as a drug-sniffing K-9 officer with the department for the past six years.

Some attendees brought treats and chew toys for Hank, who displayed the discipline that he acquired through his years of training, and also showed the excited playfulness that he’ll get to embrace in his retired life.

Detective Andrew White has been Hank’s handler and primary partner for the past four years. While White said he has grown close to Hank professionally during their time together, he noted that he’s “not really” sad to see Hank go into retirement.

“A lot of K-9s that I’ve seen in law enforcement typically take some type of injury or sickness to get them retired, whether it’s hip dysplasia or some type of stomach turning (issue),” White said. “He doesn’t have any of that, so he gets to retire and just be playful and happy as a retired dog.”

While it is true that Hank is getting up in years, the reason for his retirement isn’t due to age or declining skills.

Hank is trained to specialize in sniffing out marijuana. After California voters essentially legalized recreational marijuana last year by approving Proposition 64, Hank’s services will no longer be needed.

By retiring Hank, the Lompoc Police Department, which is dealing with staffing and budget shortages, will save about $7,000 per year.

Sgt. Kevin Martin noted that Hank could have potentially been retrained for another type of service, but he said that would have taken a full-time handler and a lot of time and money.

“It’s just a constant training that would have to take place, and as you know, we don’t have the resources for that,” Martin said.

Hank has had a storied career with the Lompoc Police Department, which credits him with assisting in the seizure of about $445,000 from local drug dealers.

White said Hank’s biggest bust came when the dog alerted officers to a smell he picked up in the ground. Hank’s alert led officers to dig up the area. They ended up uncovering about $320,000 in cash.

That money was used to purchase the department’s new armored vehicle.

“It’s pretty amazing what they can do and how sensitive their noses are,” Martin said.

In retirement, Hank, who began his career partnered with Detective Eric Nesby, will move on to live with White. Hank’s departure leaves Lompoc Police with just one other K-9, though that one is used for protective purposes.

Over the past four years, White has had to treat Hank like a service dog and not as a pet. Hank was trained to seek out marijuana in order to receive a reward, which often would be the chance to play. To keep him sharp professionally, Hank spent most of his off-duty time in a kennel, usually leaving only to eat, exercise and relieve himself.

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“He didn’t have the same privileges that a regular house dog would have,” White said. “Just to keep him interested in the ‘game’ and able to perform his job — you can’t do that with a dog who acts like a pet.

“To keep that drive up, you’ve gotta keep him cooped up,” he added.

That is beginning to change as Hank, whose last day of work was about a month ago, transitions into retirement.

White said Hank is adjusting nicely to home life, where he plays with White’s other dog, a malamute.

“He’s getting a little bit old,” White said of Hank, “but he’s more than hyper and he still acts like he’s a dog who’s 3 years old.”

Martin, who worked with one of the Lompoc Police Department’s first K-9 officers about 20 years ago, said he was also happy to see Hank retire with his health. Martin noted that his K-9 partner wasn’t as lucky.

“By the time he retired, he could hardly walk,” Martin said of the dog he once worked alongside. “It really does physically wear them out. So letting (Hank) retire like this is just gonna extend his life and make him more comfortable.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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