Your Corgi is stung by a bee. Your Pit Bull snorts a foxtail, ingests snail bait or breaks her leg. Whatever the situation, you rush your beloved pup to the closest veterinary hospital and return home with a hefty bill and—more importantly—your recuperating dog.
But what if you’re a law-enforcement K-9 handler out in the field and your partner is panting uncontrollably after chasing a suspect in sweltering 90-degree weather? Or maybe your K-9 returns from a search through the woods with a swelling limb or suspicious bite on the neck. You’re nowhere near an animal hospital and your partner’s life may be in jeopardy. What do you do?
Thanks to the Cover Your K-9 Emergency Medicine Training Course presented by the Police and Working K-9 Foundation, close to 600 K-9 handlers are better equipped to answer this question, armed with life-saving skills and tools needed to treat their fourlegged partners.
“Handlers typically have a couple of hours of instruction about caring for their K-9 partner that is offered when they take their basic K-9 training,” said Louise Tully, foundation president and cofounder. “We aren’t aware of a similar course that offers our type of extensive curriculum.” She added that some private companies attempt to fill the void by offering fee-based courses, but the foundation offers both the course and with it, their Custom K-9 Trauma Kit and K-9 Stat Pak (valued at $300) at no charge to agencies or handlers.
Twice a year, the all-volunteer foundation holds these emergency medical training (EMT) courses for up to 75 K-9 handlers from agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, California Highway Patrol, police departments, sheriffs’ offices and SAR teams. Covering subjects ranging from physical fitness and recommended treats to trauma, heat stroke and stabbings, the intensive eight-hour workshops and interactive labs provide K-9 handlers with invaluable nose-to-tail overviews on the care and maintenance needs of their working dogs.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Police and Working K-9 Foundation is dedicated to keeping police dogs safe while they protect their communities. Expenses for the workshops, which run approximately $22,000 each, are fully funded through “Cover Your K-9” fund-raisers. Donations also help provide essential safety equipment for law enforcement K-9s throughout Northern California, including bulletproof vests, patrol car heat alarms and a special fund that supports retired K-9s.
The workshops’ first five hours consist of lectures by veterinarians who volunteer their time to share their specific working-dog expertise. The final 90 minutes are spent in a hands-on lab with live—and very patient—canine models. In the lab, handlers practice life-saving skills such as monitoring vital signs, CPR and bandaging.
“It’s important to understand [the needs of] K-9 handlers,” Tully said, citing guest speaker Megan Davis, DVM, a critical care specialist in emergency care, as an example. “She sees dogs in their most dire state, so having her do the heat stroke and CPR segments was great.”
Heat Injury Happens Fast
In a recent session, Davis told the rapt audience that every year, more working dogs die from heat stroke than any other preventable cause. The combination of extreme environmental factors and heavy exercise, coupled with the dogs’ inherent desire to please their handlers, make them especially susceptible to heat injury. Very high-drive dogs will literally work until they drop, and agitated dogs heat up even faster.
“They often won’t show signs of dehydration or fatigue until it’s too late,” Davis warned. “Your K-9s rely on you to know when to call it quits.” She stressed that all phases of heat injury, from mild to severe, are life threatening and can occur more rapidly than one might expect. Immediate first aid includes monitoring vital signs and an external cool-down with water or wet towels. Ice or overly cold water should be avoided, since they can actually slow down the dog’s cooling process. All levels of heat injury require veterinary treatment.
For many handlers, the session on heat injury was an eye-opener.