Fla. attorney general backs bill to allow medical transport of injured police K-9s

State Attorney General Ashley Moody and dozens of K-9 officers gathered Friday to promote the bill


Mark Harper
The Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A domestic violence call in 2015 put Endo, a Volusia County sheriff's canine, in the way of a bullet.

Endo was struck in the neck and deputy Brett Whitson rushed him to the hospital, where his partner was able to make a full recovery. In some similar scenarios in Florida, emergency-medical technicians and paramedics are on the scene, but unauthorized to help.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (left, in foreground) joined dozens of K-9 officers Friday in showing support for a bill that would allow EMS providers to transport K-9s injured in the line of duty.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (left, in foreground) joined dozens of K-9 officers Friday in showing support for a bill that would allow EMS providers to transport K-9s injured in the line of duty. (Photo/Nigel Cook, The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

State Sen. Tom Wright, R- New Smyrna Beach, wants that to change. Wright hosted Attorney General Ashley Moody and about 70 canine officers, elected officials and other supporters at a news conference at the Volusia County Sheriff's Training Center Friday giving his Senate bill more momentum.

Moody called it "very, very important" legislation, as last year 130 police canines were injured in the line of duty nationwide.

"Currently, paramedics and EMTs are not specifically permitted to transport our officer canines that are injured, nor are those that offer life-saving treatment shielded from liability," she said.

Wright's bill, SB 388, has passed through the Senate Health Committee, Criminal Justice and Rules committees without objection. It's headed to the Senate floor for a vote next week, Wright said.

An identical bill in the House, HB 697, has yet to be heard in committee.

Life or death for Bane

Debbie Johnson — president and founder of a Jacksonville-based support organization, K9s United — recounted the story of an ATF K-9, Bane, who suffered serious injuries in a vehicle fire last year.

Bane's handlers took a break from a training.

"They broke to grab lunch at a nearby restaurant and left the car running for Bane," Johnson said. "They had been inside the restaurant for 3 or 4 minutes when a customer came in and announced their car was on fire."

Smoke from the engine poured into the interior.

"They attempted to unlock the truck, but the fire destroyed the electronics," Johnson said. "They broke out windows and used fire extinguishers and did the best they could to keep the fire off of Bane while they attempted to get the back door open."

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue officials used the jaws of life to free Bane, who was unconscious. They treated him immediately with oxygen and placed him on a stretcher, where they started an IV.

"Without a doubt," Johnson said, "that initial treatment saved his life."

Wright said the Jacksonville emergency medical personnel weren't licensed to carry animals in Bane's case.

"The fire chief made the decision to have that vehicle used to transport the dog and he almost lost his job over it," Wright said. "Thank goodness he didn't, because the doctors at the hospital made it known that had that dog not been transported that day, there would have been a funeral."

Bane was able to make a full recovery within two weeks and is back on the job, Johnson said.

Some EMTs are trained to aid animals

Whitson, the handler of Endo, said he can see where it makes sense to allow for medical transport of dogs.

"Obviously we don't carry oxygen tanks in our cars. That's something that certainly would assist," Whitson said. "Certain types of blod-clot agents would be beneficial in certain scenarios and just the knowledge that these guys have, the paramedics have, it's just life-saving."

In 2016, just a year after Endo survived his gunshot, a police shootout in Deltona left another sheriff's canine, Forest, dead of a gunshot wound. Matt Brunelle, a flight paramedic with the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, said that incident led to training for him and his colleagues.

"After Forest was shot and killed, we all went to DeLand Animal Hospital, went to the vets there and they trained us up on how to intubate the dogs, perform IVs, perform any kind of resuscitation efforts that were needed on the dog," he said.

Wright said most EMS personnel already know how to rescue dogs and in Volusia County, at least, EVAC ambulances are equipped with muzzle covers to help

"In these horrific instances, we should do all we can to save the lives of our four-legged officers," the senator said.

Support from law enforcement

Dozens of police dogs and their handlers joined in the show of support for Wright's bill Friday.

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the handlers dedicate thousands of hours to train with their partners.

"God forbid, if something happens, EMTs can provide immediate medical attention to these wonderful parts of our community and our family and get them to the veterinarian and increase their chance to survive," he said.

"I can't see how anybody could oppose such a great thing."

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma made a similar point: "When you look at this bill, and you look at the conditions, it just simply makes sense."

The deputies and their dogs are together 24/7.

"They are officers and deputies themselves, and truly they are treated as important, integral members of the team," Moody said. "They are often the first to go into dangerous situations, whether that is detaining dangerous criminals, detecting fatal drugs or even the return of missing persons."

Wright said years ago he volunteered as a police canine officer and also has worked as an ambulance-service paramedic.

"I know that these canines and their handlers are inseparable," he said. "They become part of their families, and that the handler will do everything in their power to protect their partners."

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