Kojack, a Bloodhound, and Dingo, a Dutch Shepherd, both lost their lives in the line of duty last week as K-9 officers for the Maryland Dept. of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Tragically, they were the sixth and seventh police dogs to die in hot cars this summer. Four of those deaths were caused by air conditioners and heat alarms that apparently failed to work.
Kojack and Dingo were left in a car parked at the Baltimore City Detention Center Aug. 25 during the process of transferring prisoners to another location.
“The air-conditioning system malfunctioned,” department spokesman Gerard Shields told the Baltimore Sun. Both dogs died of heat exhaustion. One died inside the car, while the other died the next day.
“The handlers are very distraught,” Shields said. “These dogs provide an incredible service to the department in making our facilities safer. They are part of our department family.”
It is not known how long the dogs were left in the car. Shields told the Baltimore Sun the department is investigating the incident to determine if any policy or procedures were violated.
K-9 Officer Wix Dies in Hot Car During PGA Championship
Less than two weeks before the deaths of Kojack and Dingo, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois named Wix died while on duty at the PGA Championship golf tournament in Kohler, Wisc.
Wix was a K-9 officer with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office. His handler, Deputy Austin Lemberger, left him in the squad car Aug. 12 with the engine and air conditioner running.
When Lemberger checked on Wix around 12:30 p.m., the engine and air conditioner were off, and Wix was unresponsive.
The squad car was equipped with a heat alarm, but it didn’t go off, Capt. Dan Sandberg of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office told the Green Bay Press Gazette.
Like Kojack and Dingo’s handler, Lemberger was distraught over the death of his partner.
“He’s holding up, but, to be honest, it’s rough for him. It’s like losing a part of your family, so it was really hard on him,” Sandberg told the Gazette.
K-9 Officer Nitro Dies in Squad Car on 106-Degree Day
On June 30, the handler of a police dog named Nitro put the 3-year-old Dutch Shepherd in a squad car with the air conditioner running while the officer and another police dog chased down a fleeing suspect in Stockton, Calif.
As the temperature outside rose to 106 degrees, the car’s air conditioner stopped working. When the handler returned to the car, he saw Nitro was having a medical issue and rushed him to a vet. It was too late.
“This situation is obviously devastating for our K-9 handler and the entire police department is mourning this loss,” Officer Joe Silver wrote on the Stockton Police Department’s Facebook page.
Alarms Are ‘Only Good When They’re Turned On’
The heat alarm that malfunctioned in the squad car in which Wix died was just a few years old, Capt. Sandberg told the Gazette. He said there have been no other equipment problems.
In Stockton, K-9 squad cars have safety mechanisms including an extra fan, heat sensors and extra water. The police department is investigating what caused those mechanisms to fail in the car in which Nitro died.
There’s also the heartbreaking possibility that it wasn’t mechanical failure that caused these tragedies, but human error: distracted officers in stressful situations forgot to turn on the alarms.
Russ Hess, national executive director of the U.S. Police Canine Association, which provides guidance for K-9 handlers, told HLN the association recommends that K-9 squad cars be equipped with heat sensors and alarms. However, he added, “They’re only good when they’re turned on.”
Neglecting to set the alarm is never intentional, Hess noted. “I’m not a psychologist, but it’s just a mental thing. Everyone in the K-9 industry is well aware of the dangers, and every trainer I know stresses being mindful. But history shows us that this happens. One dog’s too many, but every year we see four, five deaths like these.”
Bob Dye, general manager at Ace K9, which manufactures safety mechanisms for K-9 police cars, told HLN a major challenge is creating a safety device that officers will remember to use.
“Consistent training is the best solution for educating everybody,” Dye said. “Products aren’t enough. People need to learn how to use it.”
The sooner K-9 handlers can be provided with this training, the better — for both the two- and four-legged officers.
As Hess told HLN, “There is nothing more tragic than a handler who finds out that he forgot his dog.”