Update: Omaha K9 killed 1/25/2016. The year 2016 is not starting out well for police K9 dogs in the U.S. Since the beginning of January,
three four K9’s have already been killed by hostile gunfire. In all of 2015, a total of four working dogs died by gunfire, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Of the 26 K9’s killed in 2015, one was poisoned and one was stabbed, in addition to the others who died from shootings or accidental causes. The average number of police dogs shot to death during the last decade was 3.2 annually.
Sometimes we take for granted the indispensable role these trained animals play in law enforcement. K9 dogs perform a function that cannot be duplicated by man or machinery. Their keen olfactory senses, coupled with above-average intelligence and physical stamina, make it possible for them to locate and indicate hidden persons and contraband. K9’s protect handlers and citizens alike. Their mere presence can be a deterrent to violence.
A K9 handler is charged with protecting the well-being of his four-legged partner. We do not knowingly deploy them against armed adversaries unless there is an extreme exigency. Despite that, the dogs are front and center when we go into harm’s way. Just as we cannot prevent all officer deaths, some working dogs will also pay the ultimate price each year.
I was once ordered by a shift commander to put my dog into an apartment to capture a suspect wielding a shotgun. I respectfully refused and told him that I would lead my SWAT guys into the apartment instead, since that would be the proper response. A dog cannot defend himself against a firearm.
A former K9 supervisor of mine was a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. He saw combat alongside military dogs. He told us the K9’s, who had their vocal cords removed for noise discipline, were brought forward to point out the enemy, but, when possible, taken to the rear when the bullets actually flew. A trained dog is not just a piece of equipment to be needlessly sacrificed.
It is difficult for me to explain the bond between a handler and his K9. It transcends pet ownership, I think, because of the dangerous nature of the job that is shared. There are moments when that dog is the only back-up you have when things go sideways. They may also be the only friend you have on a lonely night in the cruiser.
We spend more time with our K9 partners than we do with spouses or family. It is an experience that goes both ways. Your dog depends solely on you for companionship, love, strength, and direction. And treats. I joke that my dogs were better partners than most human ones. Was that a joke?
It was my privilege to handle police K9 dogs and supervise those who did for a third of my law enforcement career. It pains me to see these magnificent animals perish at the hands of criminals, but the service they provide is necessary. I hope that these recent deaths, in such a short period, are an unfortunate anomaly and not part of a trend.