DC police dog dies in squad car, sheds light on K9 heat exhaustion issue

(Photo credit: DC Metropolitan Police Twitter)

Rocket, an explosives detection dog with the Metropolitan Police Department, was found dead in his police cruiser on Monday.

Heat exhaustion is a silent but widespread killer of K9s. His death marks another in a long line of police dogs who have died in police cruisers. Rocket’s manager remains anonymous and in service.

Rocket’s Crossing

Authorities released a statement announcing the death of the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois assigned to the DC-based police department’s Special Operations Division. Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said authorities are still awaiting autopsy results to determine the cause of death. However, Rocket apparently suffered from heat exhaustion.

The statement notes that his handler found Rocket after leaving the vehicle “parked, secure and idling” on a DC street. He further explains that all K9 units have technology that should prevent this from happening. According to the release, K9 vehicles “are equipped with a temperature monitoring and alarm system that should activate when the vehicle’s interior environment exceeds a safe temperature.”

Obviously, these Rocket Squad Car features suddenly malfunctioned or didn’t work properly initially. The statement also notes that officers are conducting “a full inspection of the vehicle.”

Heat exhaustion and K9

A 2015 article by The Washington Post found that 40% of dogs on the Officer Down Memorial Page died of heat exhaustion. DogTime has attempted to both corroborate these statistics and compare them to recent site statistics. Unfortunately, they no longer show a full list of K9 deaths. The site only lists five recently deceased K9s – one of whom, a Californian K9 named Hannes, died of heat stroke.

Interestingly, the site lists three “qualifying” ways to die for a K9 to be presented as a fallen hero: criminal causes, accidental causes, and heat exhaustion. The site also specifies that heat exhaustion must take place while scouting or training or in a service-owned vehicle. If K9 heat exhaustion occurs in a personal vehicle, it is not eligible.

The inclusion of heat exhaustion as an inevitable mode of death is rather peculiar. The majority of states have laws in place that criminalize civilians leaving their dogs in cars. Why is it not the same for the police?

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