K-9 Emergency Medical Course Teaches Police Officers How To Care For Their Canine Partners

June 27, 2012

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By: Yirmeyah Beckles

Gauze squares, oxygen masks and sponge forceps to remove items lodged in a dog’s throat were laid out on treatment tables and placed in give away kits during the Cover Your K-9 Emergency Medicine Course and Trauma Training on Tuesday that attracted law enforcement officers, most of them K-9 handlers, from across the Bay Area. ?The day-long intensive training, which included practicing CPR on dummy dogs, was held at Pet Food Express on 85th Avenue and focused on teaching handlers the skills needed when service dogs are injured in the line of duty.

Throughout the country this year, several K-9s were wounded or killed on the job. Bodie, a German shepherd who works for the Sacramento Police Department, was shot during a police chase in May—twice through his left jaw and once in his paw—and is recovering from jaw surgery. Matt Harger, an Antioch police officer, and his K-9, Thor, were run over by a car while struggling with a suspect in February. Both survived.

“These dogs are officers on the front line and they get injured as well,” said Lissa Richardson, a veterinarian at Sage Centers for Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Care in Concord who volunteered to give a presentation at the event and assist with showing how to wrap “wounds” on live demo dogs. While there are some similarities between using CPR when reviving humans and dogs, she said, there are also “some unique differences, so the training helps handlers to really understand how to treat their dogs and what things to look for.”

The voluntary training included K-9 handlers from the Oakland, San Francisco, Redwood City and Woodland Police Departments, the Alameda County, Sonoma County and San Mateo County Sheriff’s Offices and other Northern California public safety agencies. The handlers who traveled the furthest came from Dos Palos Police Department, nearly three hours from the training site.

After the intensive course—which included seven Power Point presentations and a binder handout given before handlers could practice—“resusi-dogs, furry dog mannequins, were used to teach handlers cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Real dogs—a golden retriever, a German shepherd, an Australian shepherd and a Bernese shepherd mix—were used to learn advanced first aid and emergency care skills, including leg splinting and bandaging.

Learning the best place to find a pulse—the inside of a dog’s back leg—was an important part of teaching handlers how to react during a crisis. “Reach your hand around the front of the leg,” said Linda Lasky, a nursing supervisor for Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services in San Francisco. “Right where your four fingers would land, it has kind of a grove and you can feel it in there. Try to use all for fingers to find it. You can take the elbow and bring it back to the chest to find it that way if there heart is still going.”

At home, she advised, “When your dog’s sitting on the coach with you and you’re petting it, you should feel for its pulse every time so you get the hang of it.”

The life-size dummies included a tube that went into the dummies’ legs. When squeezed, handlers could feel a “pulse” inside the leg where it would be present on their own dog. “We simulate the pulse stopping and the need to start CPR,” said Juliet Blake, a clinic director at the Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek. “This dog actually feels like a real dog. Handlers learn the depth of the compressions and how hard they can push in a real life situation.”

Handlers were asked to do 15 chest compressions and then give two breaths. They also learned how to check to see whether the dog was conscious or not. “Take your sunglasses off and put them in front of the dog’s nose to see if they steam up or not,” Lasky said. “You can have an animal go into respiratory arrest if they fall into a pool and not cardiac arrest and may need rescue breathing instead of compressions.”

The training was new to most K-9 handlers who had worked in the field for years. “I’ve never done CPR on a dog before,” said Enrik Melgoza, a San Pablo police officer. His Belgian Malinois, Argos, is trained in narcotics detection. “It’s pretty similar to a human being—other than obviously laying on its side and the location of the pulse. But it’s pretty similar by the compressions and the ratio 15-to-2.”

“That was quite the experience,” said Carlo Calacal, who was the only handler to come from his San Francisco Federal Reserve office. “You're never used to doing CPR on an animal,” he said, laughing a bit. His black Labrador is a bomb-sniffing dog who hasn’t faced any serious injuries. “Say your partner’s dog has a respiratory problem or your neighbor’s,” said Calacal of when these skills may be useful. “It’s nice to know what to do.”

Mike Chicas, a Belmont police K-9 handler, came to the training course with a personal story. His dog, Nitro, was injured in the line of duty in 2006. “I was in my black and white and following a car so my focus and attention was straight ahead, and on my left side all of a sudden I just felt the impact.” He slams his right fist into his left hand. “I was T-boned by a drunk driver and went flying—hitting a fire hydrant and almost went through a Longs Drug Store.”

His dog was in the police car. “Our cars are open, you know, the dogs have access to the front. My dog came flying over the front, and the air bag caught him, but the air bags come out at 200 miles per hour. He took a 200-mile-per-hour smack right to the muzzle—the face. He had glass all over his fur and he was bleeding.”

“I had to get jawed out,” Chicas said of the hydraulic tool used to pry him out of the wreckage, and Nitro was transported to an emergency veterinarian. ??That experience convinced Chicas of the importance of learning these skills. “As much as we get first aid and CPR training on humans, this is the first time in my 8 years as a handler that I’ve gotten it for my K-9 partner,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I want to know how to patch him up in an emergency?”

The instructors leading the training also offered a number of warnings about what to look for in an emergency. “One of the things that’s really important—just because you see blood on the dog doesn’t mean it’s the dog’s blood,” Lasky said. “If it is dog’s blood you’re not going to get anything from it, but you need to assume that dog could have bit someone else and that person could have bled on your dog. Assume its contagious blood whether it’s human or dog.”

Handlers were given trauma kits that included saline for irrigating wounds, a chemical that clots blood, triple antibiotic ointment and instant ice packs.

Pet Food Express locations in Oakland are accepting donations for the Cover Your K-9 Fund. “We have more than 80 K-9 teams appearing at 43 Pet Food Express locations in Northern California to raise funds so we can continue to do these programs,” said Louise Tully, vice president and co-founder at the Police and Working K-9 Foundation. “We have spent all the funds raised last year on bulletproof vests, heat alarms for patrol cars, and emergency medical care for retired K-9s.”

If you wash you wash our dog at any Pet Food Express location on June 30 and July 1, all of the proceeds will go to Cover Your K-9. More information can be found here.

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