The term “K-9” is synonymous with law enforcement. Just about everyone knows that when the “fur missile” is deployed, it’s about to get real for the suspect in their sights.
These dogs are rough, ready, hardworking and dedicated members of their respective police departments. They may have 4 feet and fur, but they’re officers too.
Like their 2-footed counterparts, K-9s face numerous safety risks while on the job. Some of these are, of course, predictable, such as injuries sustained while tracking or restraining a suspect. But there are several other risks that may surprise you.
Every town needs its various municipalities to meet a budget. However, there is a lot of truth to the old adage “You get what you pay for.”
A good administration understands walking the line between making a bottom line and protecting the blue line, which includes K-9 officers. A department has to pay for the dog, of course, but it also needs to reserve funds for training, equipment, payroll and medical needs for the life of the K-9.
This is a long-term cost that must be managed carefully and well. An administration that does not allocate enough funds to properly train or care for a K-9 may be shooting themselves in the foot if the K-9 makes a costly mistake due to lack of training.
Oftentimes, public fundraising and K-9 organizations such as the Cape and Islands Police K-9 Relief Fund can help offset various costs of owning, training and maintaining a K-9. The K-9 — like their handler — is ultimately at the mercy of the budget when it comes to training, equipment and necessities.
About 99% of K-9 handlers aren’t just good at their job, they’re great at it. Their dog’s welfare comes before just about anything else, including their own well-being.
However, as in so many other professions, there is that 1% who don’t do the job. K-9s depend on their human handlers to give firm direction and provide the necessary training required to do their job as safely as possible. A shoddy or lazy handler puts everyone at risk, especially their K-9.
In the past, new stories have broken about K-9s left behind in hot patrol cars, resulting in their deaths (8 dogs in 2017 alone). This is the ultimate betrayal. Well-trained handlers are crucial to the health and well-being of their K-9. A handler who does not appropriately care for their K-9 should not be allowed to remain a K-9 officer, period.
A K-9 requires massive amounts of training that varies depending on the job the dog will be expected to do, including tracking, apprehension and even detection.
Many dogs are cross-trained, or taught more than 1 skill. Think about the time it takes to properly train a regular house dog in the basics like toilet training and commands — then quadruple that amount of time. And a K-9’s training is never done. Good handlers will train with their dogs every week — or more frequently — to ensure the training remains consistent and ever-present.
A poor trained dog whose training isn’t reinforced can make errors on the job that cost lives — including their own. If, for example, they do not return to the handler on command, they may rush into a life-threatening situation. If they don’t release a suspect on command, the K-9 may cause more damage to the suspect than necessary. Or, if the dog doesn’t apprehend when commanded, a suspect may have a chance to open fire.
Handlers also require special training to properly manage their K-9. Without continual training, the K-9 team will not be as effective and may make dangerous mistakes. It is on the administrations to ensure proper training of their K-9 teams.
As the opioid epidemic sweeps the nation, we see police officers becoming exposed to deadly drugs like fentanyl during apprehension or suspect searches. While dogs are more resistant than humans to the effects of narcotics, drug exposure may be fatal.
“Minuscule amounts of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and fentanyl analogues such as carfentanil, can cause overdoses in the same police dogs that were safe while sniffing for heroin,” warns the American Veterinary Medical Association. “University veterinarians, police departments and nonprofit organizations are giving police and emergency medical technicians opioid antidote kits intended for emergency use in dogs and training them how to administer the antidote.”
Watch this K-9 train — it’s intense:
How to Help
There are several ways you can help local police officers and canines:
- Send an email to your local department asking how you can best show your support.
- Look in your area for local police and K-9 support groups. Many will be active on social media.
- Hold a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to your local police foundation.
- Reach out to your local lawmakers and express your desire for proper fund allocation to your local departments. Keep the pressure on to promote change.
Don’t bring food to the police station for the K-9s. While the gesture is appreciated, often these dogs are on special diets or given specific foods. Unfortunately, police officers also have to guard against contaminated food. Food from an unknown source may be discarded as a precautionary measure, especially for a dog who can’t tell their handler, “Hey, this smells a little weird.”
K-9s are the epitome of dedication, hard work and duty. Their safety rests on the shoulders of their handlers. It’s up to us to support the K-9s and their handlers in any way we can.