By Heather R. Cotter, IPSA Executive Director
Law enforcement K9s are a fundamental extension to any law enforcement agency. They are highly trained and often have very specialized backgrounds including: narcotics detection, explosives detection, cadaverine detection, patrol and sentry/attack, search and rescue and arson detection.
Just like human officers, the job of a K9 is high risk. Since January 2017, and according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, U.S. law enforcement has lost eight K9 heroes due to gunfire (one accidental), heat exhaustion and a heart attack.
- K9 Freckles served 11 years with the Florida Department of Corrections. He tragically lost his life due to heat exhaustion after a manhunt that lasted several days.
- K9 Rico served six months with the Alaska State Troopers. He was shot and killed while attempting an apprehension of a suspect following a pursuit.
- K9 Kyro served three years with the Houston County (GA) Sheriff's Office. He was accidently shot when he wrongly attacked his handler – thinking the officer was a suspect.
- K9 Rosco served six months with the Crowley (LA) Police Department. He was shot and killed after officers responded to a shooting call.
- K9 Rooster served five years with the Wichita (KS) Police Department. K9 Rooster was shot and killed while attempting an apprehension of a subject the scene of a domestic disturbance.
- K9 Diesel served with the Sebastian (FL) Police Department. He died from heat exhaustion.
- K9 Doki served one year with the Jasper County (SC) Sheriff's Office. He died from heat exhaustion.
- K9 Ranger served seven years with the Forest Lake (MN) Police Department. He died from a heart attack.
Every K9 LODD is a tragedy that causes deep mourning in any department. It is important to remember, recognize and learn from our fallen K9s.
There are several things we can do to keep our K9 safe from providing them bullet proof vests, making sure they’re hydrated, protecting them from overdosing during a drug raid, exercising them regularly and double or triple checking to make sure they’re not left alone in vehicles.
Vests: K9s, like human officers, must have protective vests. This life-saving piece of equipment can save a K9 life from stabbings, bullets and even thermal overheating.
Hydration: K9s need water. Whether you’re a handler for patrol, search and rescue or other K9 it’s critical to keep them hydrated while they are on duty and off duty. K9s exert an exorbitant amount of energy. Keep them hydrated.
Drug overdoses: K9s that work narcotics detection often encounter serious (and sometimes lethal) types of drugs. Recently, there has been news about using naloxone on K9s in case of an accidental overdose. This is worth further exploration for all K9 handlers and departments.
Exercise: While K9s do get quite a bit of exercise, it’s important to keep them active even while they’re off-duty. Make sure they get regular physical examinations.
Vehicles: There is no getting around having a K9 in a vehicle. Therefore, it is incumbent and a responsibility of the handler to always double or triple check that the K9 is not left alone in the vehicle. The K9 is depending on the handler to ensure its safety.
K9s will always be a part of law enforcement. They have a long history of service and there is no end in sight. We must be vigilant to their environment and any stress they encounter – whether it’s environmental, during a call for service or physical. Our K9s protect us and we must protect them. Learn from the fallen heroes and apply those lessons in your department.