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New high-tech vehicle helps protect K-9s

By Ryan Harris
The Chattanooga Times Free Press

TRENTON, Ga. — When Dade County Sheriff's Deputy Tanner Clark went to serve a warrant at a home a few weeks ago, the suspect suddenly dashed out the back door.

The deputy's K-9 partner, Rossi, was still in the back of the squad car.

"I had to take off running back to the car, unlock the door, get him out and take off back around (the house). That's time," Deputy Clark said.

Now that time can be saved.

An anonymous donor gave the Dade County Sheriff's Office a device for Deputy Clark's car. The press of a button on his gun belt pops the car door open and allows his K-9 colleague to spring into action.

The high-tech system would have been an unaffordable luxury, Dade County Sheriff Patrick Cannon said.

"We've got a lot of citizens that support law enforcement in Dade County," the sheriff said.

Deputy Clark said he's used the device only once during an arrest, so far, but he expects it will come in handy.

"It's just like a gun or a Taser. You may wear it six or seven years and never use it, but there is that one time you will," Deputy Clark said.

The system, called Ace K-9 Hot-N-Pop, offers more than the high-tech doggie door for the 3-year-old Belgian Malinois.

It's also equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, a smoke detector and a heat sensor to help protect the dog.

If the patrol car interior temperature gets near 95 degrees, the system will activate the patrol car sirens, page the officer, roll down the car's back windows and activate a fan, Deputy Clark said. It keeps Rossi safe while he is away from the vehicle.

"He doesn't have a cell phone or anything like that to say, 'Hey, daddy, it's getting hot.' That's where this steps in and takes over," Deputy Clark said.

John Johnston, president of Radiotronics Inc. in Jupiter, Fla., said he developed the Ace K-9 brand 22 years ago after three dogs died in the stifling Florida heat. He said his company has sold about 10,000 of the systems to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

But Jim Watson, national secretary of the North American Police Work Dog Association in Perry, Ohio, said heat detectors are still not common equipment with smaller police departments.

"They are not as prevalent as they need to be," Mr. Watson said.

He said more K-9s die from heat than from being shot or otherwise killed in the line of duty. One police dog died last year in Acworth, Ga., after being left in a patrol car in summer heat.

Sheriff Cannon said his Dade County department could not have purchased the $1,200 Hot-N-Pop system without the anonymous community backer. He said some Dade County businesses also help by purchasing food for the department's three-dog K-9 team.

"We've got a lot of citizens that support law enforcement in Dade County," the sheriff said. "The best way to be effective in your community is with community support. You can't effectively fight crime in your area without citizen participation."

copyright 2008 The Chattanooga Times Free Press

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