On June 30, 2015, Nitro, a long serving police K9, was overcome by extreme heat when the air conditioner in his police K9 vehicle failed. While officers were serving a warrant to arrest a suspect, the suspect fled and another K9 was deployed to catch the fleeing suspect. When K9 Nitro's handler/partner returned to the vehicle, the air conditioning was off and Nitro was in distress. K9 Nitro's partner rushed him to a vet, where Nitro died.
On July 17, 2015, Zane, a 5-year-old police K9, was found dead in his handler's patrol vehicle, after his handler returned home from a 12 hour shift not feeling well and left K9 Zane in the vehicle for 10 hours. K9 Zane’s partner/handler has been placed on administrative leave subject to an internal investigation. The police department reports it is now looking into a device used in daycare vans to keep their K9 officers safe.
Both of these deaths are heart breaking. As a K9 handler who works with the police, I fear the summer more than any other time of year. Handling three dogs, I can only work one dog at a time, which means the other two dogs are left in the vehicle.
On a search, I have two choices. I can leave the dogs in the shade with a fan, water and protective sun deflectors draped over the vehicle. Or, I can leave the vehicle running with the air conditioning on and the windows rolled up. I fear leaving the vehicle on because the engine might overheat and quit. KYK9 lacks the heat sensors and alarms typically installed in police department K9 vehicles, an important layer of safety I wish we could afford. (But even that extra protection failed K9 Nitro.) But sometimes, there is no shade. And even if there is shade, it moves with the sun.
And this is why the heat scares me. I never know how long a search will take. If there is no scent trail to follow, the search obviously will be short. But if there is a scent trail, Scout, Remy or Pocket could take trail and be gone for hours.
Last week, we deployed in the high heat and humidity of mid-July. I left the vehicle with the windows down, fan on, as it was overcast. K9 Scout took trail and after five minutes I realized we would be gone for a good while. I knew there were police officers near my vehicle, but that brought me little comfort. Non-K9 officers often leave their vehicles running and don't have to worry. So that was not enough.
I asked the officer with me to radio and have another officer check on my dogs. I felt better, not taking any chances. So as we walked back hours later, my heart skipped a beat when I saw my vehicle with its windows rolled up, unattended. I had left the windows down, vehicle in the shade. I started running toward the vehicle. As I rushed up, an officer stepped out from behind the truck. He smiled softly, "Don't worry. I rolled up the windows and turned on the air conditioning when the sun came out. I have dogs, I know."
K9 Nitro and K9 Zane were not so lucky. For K9 Scout, K9 Remy and K9 Pocket safety based on luck is not good enough. And, even taking every safety precaution possible, I will always, always worry.
Rest in peace K9 Officers Nitro and Zane.