Police dogs are dying of heat exhaustion at a horrific rate this summer, and a majority of those deaths have come when they were locked in hot squad cars for hours.
Since the last week of May, 11 K-9 unit dogs have died from the heat, and nine of those cases stemmed from dogs left in hot police cars. The latest tragedy struck last Wednesday in Kohler, Wisconsin, when a police dog named Wix died in a squad car as his handler worked at the PGA Championship. According to ABC News, the deputy left the air conditioner on in the squad car, but when the unit failed, Wix was trapped inside a vehicle that reached dangerously high temperatures. In fact, several of the incidents where police dogs died in hot cars this year have been blamed on faulty air conditioners.
Wix, a K-9 unit dog for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, died last week after getting left in a sweltering police car. (Facebook/Brown County Sheriff’s Department)
When a dog is trapped inside a hot car, it’s a torturous death. They try to chew their way out, often destroying the interior of the car, before succumbing to the heat.
“Symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse,” the ASPCA said on its website. “They can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees.”
Wix was the 30th K-9 dog to die from heat exhaustion since 2008, but there have already been 11 heat-related deaths this year. Using data from the Officer Down Memorial Page, this graph shows how many police dog deaths were related to the heat in each of the last eight years.
Below is a map of where the deaths have occurred this year. Two dogs died in the same incident in Hialeah, Florida, and the deaths in Fulton County, Kentucky, and Little Rock, Arkansas, were attributed to other heat-related causes; they did not suffocate in squad cars.
The police officers responsible for the canine deaths have received a wide range of punishments. Nelson Enriquez, the officer who found his two dogs dead in his squad car on May 27 in Hialeah, was suspended with pay from the Miami-Dade County Police Department, but faces up to five years in jail if convicted of killing a police dog. As the Broward-Palm Beach New Times notes, Enriquez’ punishment will likely be more lenient than that, even though it is a felony to kill a police dog.
In Jim Wells County, Texas, deputy Latham Roldan was fired from the department when he left a K-9 in his squad car, according to NBC News. The case remains under investigation.
Regardless of the punishment for each case, the spike in deaths has prompted an outcry from the public.
“When you have public officers who serve in the capacity of, basically, a trustee of the public, and they cause the death of an animal who had been charged with serving the same community, most people get really charged,” Scott Heiser, director of the Criminal Justice Program at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told Buzzfeed. “These dogs are a voiceless class, much like kids, and they are at that complete mercy of their handlers.”