Heat exhaustion in car gets blame for Utah HP dog's death

Wendy Leonard
Deseret Morning News
Copyright 2006 The Deseret News Publishing Co. 

A police dog found unconscious in a hot patrol car Sunday is believed to have died from heat exhaustion in the overheated car.

Reggie, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois, was on duty with his K-9 handler Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Brad Zeeman during a special interdiction enforcement shift in the Green River area over the weekend, when the dog was seen struggling in the patrol car.

As protocol requires, the rear window of the cruiser was down 4 inches and the engine was running with the air conditioner on. Officers, who were staying at an area motel, had just given the dog a "break," which included food and water, said UHP Lt. Chris Simmons.

Several hours later, a concerned citizen checking into the motel reported to motel managers seeing the dog struggling. They contacted Zeeman, who was asleep in his room, Simmons said.

When Zeeman responded to the vehicle, Reggie was unconscious.

"The car had overheated and was circulating dry air," Simmons said.

Officers rushed the dog to an ice bath to lower his core temperature, he said, and later took him to a veterinarian in Price. Reggie died later that night.

"The temperatures were around 114 degrees that day, but in an air-conditioned car, the dog should have been OK," Simmons said. "It's an unfortunate circumstance and it's much a loss of one of us, as he was a valued member of the department."

Temma Martin, spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Animal Services, said pet owners should never trust the air conditioner in a car.

"It's just not reliable," she said. Dogs sweat through their mouth and if they are forced to recycle the hot air from inside a car, Martin said it will slowly "cook" their internal organs.

UHP cruisers are equipped with a mechanism that releases all windows and sounds the horn when the vehicle reaches a certain temperature, but when officers checked Zeeman's vehicle, they noticed that system had not been activated.

"The protocol is in place, it just appears that one of them wasn't followed," Simmons said. He said no administrative action will be taken against Zeeman but an internal investigation is being conducted.

Reggie was UHP's first K-9 to die from heat exhaustion since the division's inception in 1997. He was a certified police service patrol dog and a narcotics detection dog and had been serving with the UHP since 2001. Reggie once recovered a man who had assaulted a police officer and fled into the hills of Tooele, and he had hundreds of career drug finds, including a 100-pound marijuana find in the gas tank of a truck in 2002.

"Reggie was a hard-working dog who would never hesitate to protect his handler," Simmons said. "He was a loyal partner and friend."

Simmons said Zeeman is taking time to "deal with his loss and is experiencing some emotional grief," but is not on official leave for the incident. UHP's K-9 force was reduced to 10 dogs with Reggie's death. E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com 


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