Police dogs die of heatstroke more than any other non-medical reason. It doesn’t have to be that way. Summer after summer.

Since 2011 46 K9’s have died in a police vehicle, that doesn’t even include this summer’s rising death toll.

inside of police car destroyed
As the heat rose, the dog trapped inside this police vehicle tried to claw, bite and/or chew their way out.

Officer’s do not need to be dying excruciating deaths locked inside their police vehicles. No matter what the reason, whether it was negligence, mechanical malfunctioning, AC going out…whatever. It is possible to see zero K9 officers die each summer from heatstroke (it happened in 2008).

Are we willing to do what it takes?

There are many great things happening right now to protect dogs in cars, when it comes to policy/law changes being implemented at a state and local level. Tons of reasons to be optimistic. More citizens are being held accountable for leaving their dogs in cars, “good samaritan’s” aren’t being punished for rescuing trapped dogs and saving their lives. More states are changing laws and policy specifically addressing dogs in hot, locked, cars.

It’s great.

While we love to see progress like Durham County’s response to the recent incident where Jennifer Miller (animal advocate) discovered a 6-mon old puppy locked in a hot car in the parking lot (they’ve now changed the policy for Police officers responding so they can use more discretion in breaking into the vehicle), there is more we can do. North Carolina could have followed Tennessee and Wisconsin’s example and made it possible for citizens like Jennifer to rescue a dying dog rather than risking waiting for the Police, but any step forward is better than nothing.

But that’s focused on normal dog owners (like me and you), and it’s not addressing a BIG problem that is breaking every dog advocates heart…summer after summer.

Before we find ourselves in 2017 coping with the death of a dozen more of our K9 servants, lets see our Police Force step up to this problem. If they don’t have ideas, we do.

After everything we’ve discovered and researched, there is one thing we believe has the best chance of reversing the trend.

The NO K9 OFFICER’S LEFT IN VEHICLES (EVER!) initiative is our ultimate idea to ensure change happens…and it’s exactly as it sounds. In our belief, it is the best chance we have of seeing zero K9 officer deaths by overheating, summer 2017.

Perhaps Tennessee and Wisconsin can be the first to embrace this kind of policy change for their law enforcement, and their devoted K9 officers. They were the first two states to allow concerned citizens to break into a vehicle to rescue an animal (without facing legal consequences for breaking in). That was huge! Seems like they’d be a great fit to implement something like No K9 Officers Left Alone in Vehicles (Ever!) initiative.

It’s also very helpful to share the stories of K9 Officer Death by Overheating and call out what’s happened publicly, rather than letting it stay quiet. While it’s been difficult to continue to see story after story over the past two months, it’s wonderful that people are sharing and speaking about what’s happening. So, in advance, thank you for that.

Doing what you can to get other’s onboard with the NO K9’s Officers Left in Vehicles (Ever!) will also help. Share it with friends, share it on the page of your local police department. Get creative.

We believe law enforcement, K9 handlers, police officers — given the role they chose — deserve to be held to an even higher standard than the ones they enforce. The amazing law enforcement men and women we know agree with us whole heartedly on this, and it’s one of the things we respect most about their service and character.

If they are going to be responsible (and have the authority) to make judgement calls that could save dogs (and humans) lives, put people behind bars, etc, then we believe they should accept that in choosing this role they have agreed to be held to an even ‘higher’ standard than the rest of us.

Particularly the leaders in that community. Maybe it’s not “fair” per say, but it is true.

While there are some generally accepted practices when it comes to K9 officers and their handling, they are not consistent. Typically K9 units are encouraged (sometimes required) to install Safety Alert Systems to monitor internal vehicle temp, for when their dogs are left alone inside. When they don’t have those, officers are instructed to leave their dogs in the vehicle with the vehicle turned on, and the AC on as well. Sometimes, even on 80 degree + days, officers don’t even leave the car on when leaving their fellow officer behind.

Like in the case of a South Texas police officer, in San Juan, who was charged this summer with cruelty to non-livestock animals after leaving his experienced K9 officer Rex in the car on a hot day, only to find him dead in the backseat upon return.

Even though Chief Juan Gonzalez suspended Cerillo without pay, and proclaimed Rex’s death an “unacceptable loss for the department,” — perhaps a policy like No K9 Officers Left In Vehicles (Ever!) would have made an even bigger difference.

For K9 police handlers, the lack of definition in policy puts them (and their K9 compadres) at a higher risk than necessary. It’d be awesome if we set these officers up for success, as much as possible — seeing as their jobs are really hard and important. And the stress they’re under daily is hard to imagine.

Structure, rules and guidelines are useful when you’re dealing with life threatening scenarios, unparalleled stress and unpredictable days.  You can rely on the process you’ve been taught and go into auto-pilot when the scenario calls for it. The problem is, what if the “process” they go into when they need to be on auto-pilot puts their K9 partners at risk in a needless way.

They turn on their vehicle (with or without an alert system), lock their loyal partner inside, and walk away. Trusting, unconsciously, in the process that is supposed to be there to help them. Until they come back and find they’re beloved K9 partner dead, having tried to escape voraciously before meeting his or her painful death. Safety Alert Systems and following procedure don’t matter in that moment…I bet they wish they followed a No K9 Officers Left in Vehicles (Ever!) policy and didn’t tell themselves something like that “could never happen to them.” Like K9 Officer Suki who died earlier this summer, after having just helped her handler apprehend a suspect. She was put into the police vehicle (equipped with a Heat Alert System) after apprehending, but quickly died when the Heat Alert failed.

Imagine what her Police Handler must have been feeling. We can prevent this.

And so we come back to:

What if the “policy” in every state required Police Officers with K9 partners to never leave their dog alone in a locked car?

When leaving a K9 partner in a locked vehicle is considered normal acceptable practice (regardless of air conditioning, cracking windows, special technology) it doesn’t set the K9’s or their handlers up for success.

Let’s set them up for success instead of failure.

We know, it’s a mind-blowing idea…but perhaps (as you can see) the best one we have available to us at the moment. Why not push for the “complete” solution…even if that means we appreciate progressive steps toward that along the way?

The summer of 2015 saw 11 K9 officers die from heatstroke. Preventable and despicable. One might think that we’d have seen a big difference this summer, but the summer isn’t even over and we’re racking up the death toll already. We’ll have to wait and see what it is in a month…sadly.

Perhaps the only thing that could prevent 100% of these deaths is a policy that required officers to never leave a dog alone in a vehicle.

Officers are constantly being called here or there, never knowing if/when things will get “serious” and all the while they are responsible for their K9 compadres. Of all the things an officer shouldn’t have to “think” about it’s the possibility of killing their beloved K9 partner because a preventable scenario.

We’re not doing enough to help our officers, K9 or human, in this regard.

Let’s push for more. Let’s push for No K9 Officers Left in Vehicles (Ever!) — if we’re encouraged as citizens and dog parents to follow that rule (as we should be), then why should it be any different for the K9 hero who serve us every day?

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  1. Police dogs should not be left in cars to die , why is it so difficult for them to find a solution to help keep there K-9’s from dying in lock hot cars. Please help save these beautiful animals to be safe and with cold water and open windows for them to live.