Surprising Cause of Death for Police Dogs

40 percent of law enforcement pups are killed from heat exhaustion.
By JoAnna Lou, November 2015
Earlier this week, animal lovers around the world mourned Diesel, a seven year old Belgian Malinois who was killed in action in a Paris suburb. The brave dog lost his life when French police sent Diesel into an apartment following a showdown with suspected terrorists. Diesel's role in Wednesday's mission highlighted the important and dangerous role that dogs play in law enforcement.

In 2010, Jim Watson, director of the North American Police Work Dog Association estimated that there may be around 50,000 active police dogs in the United States. But that number may be higher now, given the growing need for trained pups to assist officers and sniff out bombs and drugs.

But as the number of police dogs increases, more pups are being killed each year. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), there have been 26 police dog fatalities in 2015 so far, over 30 percent more compared to 2013. The most recent death was a dog named Hyco who was shot last month while chasing a group of suspected carjackers with the Anderson County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina.

But one leading cause of death has nothing to do with violence on the front lines, and easily preventable. Over 40 percent of the fatalities this year were due to heat exhaustion, usually from being left in a squad car on a hot day. In August, two dogs with the Baltimore City Detention Center died when the air conditioning failed in a police vehicle. And in May, an officer was suspended without pay after he inadvertently left two police dogs to overheat in his car.

Now many K9 unit vehicles are being outfitted with electronic systems that automatically regulate heat and humidity. Other systems can alert officers if the air conditioning fails so they can remotely open a door, allowing the dogs to escape.

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Steve Weiss, a New York Police Department lieutenant who serves as ODMP's Director of Research, agrees that more widespread adoption of these systems would cut down on heat exhaustion deaths, but says that better laws protecting police dogs would help too. "Laws in many states involving the deaths of police animals are not very strict."

It's shocking that so many police dogs are dying from something so preventable. We have the ability to significantly cut down on these fatalities. Given how much these talented dogs give us, we owe it to them to put these protections in place for their safety. 

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 Image: iStock

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.