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Hancock County Dog’s Death Prompts Look at K-9 Safety

File Photo by Scott McCloskey A Wheeling Police Department K-9 is pictured with his handler.

WHEELING — While some police departments in the Ohio Valley are taking safety measures to prevent a K-9 death in a hot police car, others say their departments already have procedures in place.

The comments from various departments came four days after Hancock County Sheriff’s K-9 Midas died after two systems failed in the sheriff’s cruiser where he was at rest. In response to his death, two departments — East Liverpool and St. Clair Township — said they would purchase a phone app that could help prevent such a tragedy with their own dogs.

Wheeling Police Department Public Information Officer Phillip Stahl said the city’s officers were not looking to purchase the app at this time. However, several other systems were in place to ensure the safety of its K-9s.

“We have a heat alarm system that’s equipped with a pager the (handler) officer wears at all times,” said Stahl who also said the city has six K-9s and six equipped cruisers. “Basically, they can see the cruiser temperature at any given time. If it gets too hot, the sensor will go off. There are fans in the car that get turned on, and the siren goes off on the car as well.

“It goes vice-versa with cold temperatures as well,” said Stahl. “K-9 cruisers are also equipped with a remote control to open the door at any time. There’s also a carbon monoxide detector for the dog.”

Stahl said the officer’s key fob allows the dog’s handlers to release the doors.

While this is primarily used to allow the K-9 to quickly escape a car to chase a suspect, it also serves to allow escape from the cruiser in the event of hot weather.

In the case of 4-year-old Midas, the air conditioning unit in his cruiser malfunctioned. The cruiser is equipped with safety windows designed to drop the two back windows in such an event, activating a window fan and sounding an alarm. But those, too, failed to work. He later died at a veterinarian office in Wheeling.

To avoid a similar fate with their dogs, St. Clair Township Chief Brian McKenzie and East Liverpool Chief John Lane said the departments are joining forces to purchase AceWatchDog apps for their K-9s from Radiotronics.com. The devices will allow them to monitor their canine partners while inside their respective cruisers from their cell phones.

With the apps in place, if the engine stalls, or another alarm indicates a problem with one of the cruisers, not only that handler will receive an alert on his phone, but the other officers will be alerted, along with the chiefs or whomever the department deems necessary.

The officers will be able to constantly monitor the air temperature and other aspects of their cruisers on their phones from wherever they are, according to McKenzie.

The apps cost $899 each, with an annual subscription fee of $168 for each.

“Without public support of the K-9s, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” said McKenzie who also said his department will use money from the K-9 fund created from public donations to purchase the apps and pay the annual fee. “This shows how important it is to have community support of the K-9 program.”

In Belmont County, Sheriff Dave Lucas said his office’s cruisers also are equipped with several functions to ensure a dog’s safety and comfort, but the department also relies on what he said is “common sense.”

“Our K-9 operators just don’t leave a dog in the car for any real period of time,” Lucas said. “If they come in to do reports, check in evidence, they bring the dog in. … If I’m in my office, I leave my door open and a K-9 will run in and just basically say ‘hi’ to me. That’s just what we do. They’re not left in the car.”

Lucas also said the sheriff’s cruisers were equipped with heat and cold sensors and fans to ensure the dog’s safety while out on patrol.

“All that equipment is to keep the dog as comfortable as the deputy is,” he said. “The dog is an officer, too.”

Meanwhile, Bridgeport K-9 handler Keven Yates said his department has always thought of the safety of their dogs.

“I’ve had two cruisers now with Santos and both cruisers have had and currently have the Heat Alert and Deployment F3 K9,” said Yates. “The heat alert system has a pager that is available for all vehicles.”

The pager notifies Yates that the temper is rising in the cruiser. This is designed to protect Santos from suffering any harm from the heat.

“When Santos is working with me, I always have a pager on my person that tells me the exact temperature inside the vehicle,” he said. “If the vehicle gets too hot, the pager notifies me. The cruiser will also set off an loud alarm and activates my emergency lights.”

Yates, who has been partnered with Santos for since 2013, tests this system on a weekly bases to make sure it is working properly.

Martins Ferry Chief John McFarland also said his department takes every precaution it can with its dog, Ecko.

“He is a vital part of our police department and like any officer, we have to make sure he has all the proper equipment needed to work safely,” he said.

Martins Ferry K-9 handler John Holmes said one of the best pieces of equipment that has helped protect Ecko from extremely hot tempers is a new cruiser.

“We have never had an issue where Ecko was in danger,” he said. “Having a new cruiser with the Hot-N-Pop system has been very effective in protecting Ecko. I am not sure an older cruiser would be able to handler a system like this. An older cruiser is more likely to break down and wear down, which will cause the equipment to malfunction.”

According to Holmes, who has been partnered with Ecko for five years, the system that is installed in his cruiser will pop the doors open and roll down the windows if the air conditioning or vehicle stops working for any reason.

“I also keep a kennel in the department so if I need to be away from the cruiser for an extended amount of time, I can place Ecko in the kennel,” he said.

But, in East Liverpool, Service-Safety Director Brian Allen said the city will pay the initial cost for purchase of the phone apps, with the annual subscription to be paid from the K-9 fund. Like the one in St. Clair Township, East Liverpool’s funds are dependent upon donations from the community.

“It’s a no-brainer for us,” Allen said about the importance of purchasing this app for the dogs’ protection.

Alan Olson, Kayla Van Dyne and Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert contributed to this report.

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