SEPTA on Friday announced that its police dog Abal will be retired and reunited with the family of his longtime handler, a move that comes days after facing national outrage over their separation.
In a tweeted news release, the transit agency said the German shepherd-Akita mix had a degenerative disc that veterinarians diagnosed after the dog had "difficulties physically" while training with his new SEPTA police handler.
"Due to the strenuous nature of the work required of a dual-purpose explosive detection and patrol," the release said, the agency "today made the decision to retire Abal from active duty. SEPTA is grateful for his service over the last five years. Abal will be made available for adoption to the family of his former handler, Ofc. Richard Galanti."
Galanti and his wife, Nicole, did not respond to requests for comment.
Last month, SEPTA notified Galanti that he was being transferred from the K-9 unit and that Abal would be reassigned to another handler. SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III has refused to discuss the decision. The Fraternal Order of Transit Police has said it was retaliation because Galanti refused to update his uniform jacket without reimbursement.
After Nicole Galanti posted an online Change.org petition about a week ago to have Abal returned, the story went national. More than 161,000 people had signed the petition by Friday. Congressman Bob Brady and others offered to raise money to buy SEPTA a dog to replace Abal.
The Galantis, who live in Wenonah, did not return a call for comment, but Brady said they were delighted.
"I talked to Nicole. She's happy, crying on the phone," Brady said. "SEPTA made the right decision. A dog is a member of the family, not just a pet."
Abal, who was rescued as a stray on the streets of New York, also helped the Galanti family deal with a devastating loss.
"We lost our son and brother Benjamin (14yo) in June 2014," Nicole wrote on the change.org petition. "Abal, who adored Ben, has been an important part of that healing for me and my children but especially for my husband."