by Ernesto Morales
The San Francisco Police Department honored two important veterans of the force Wednesday: horses named Riddler and Charlie.
The horses were part of the department’s mounted unit and were retired after serving 10 and 12-year stints, respectively.
The one-hour tribute held outside Lefty O’Doul’s Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge on Geary included a photo shoot with Riddler and a memorial for Charlie, who died earlier this month after being stricken with an intestinal disease.
Officer Matthew Castagnola rode Charlie for the past four years. “He meant the world to me. I love my horse,” he said. “He helped me and protected me, and we worked well together. The rider builds a bond with the horse. As you work more and more with them you become kind of one.”
Riddler, a 19-year-old quarter horse, will be transferred to a Sonoma County ranch where the department’s retired horses go.
“As you get older you get a little creakier. It was a little hard to work every day. It was time to let him go,” Castagnola said. “Just like a human retiring. You don’t want to retire when you can’t do anything; you want to retire when you still have a little left.”
Lefty O’ Doul’s spokesman Lee Houskeeper nailed two horseshoes onto the restaurant’s front entrance, each representing Riddler and Charlie’s influence to the police department.
“They are wonderful ambassadors for the city. They put people into a good mood,” said Houskeeper.
Founded in 1874, the SFPD mounted unit is considered the second oldest patrol unit in North America. Today the department carries a dozen horses for its nine patrol officers.