Hank Investigates: Police K9s at Risk in Emergencies

It’s shocking but true–all the brave law enforcement officers in Massachusetts do not get equal opportunity for medical treatment when they’re injured in the line of duty. Why? Hank Phillippi Ryan’s investigation reveals who’s at risk, and why.

It was their last mission together: Yarmouth K-9 officer Sean Gannon and his partner, Nero, serving a warrant at a Blueberry Road home.

But the man inside started shooting. Emergency teams, swat, fire, police converged.

Officer Gannon went down.

An ambulance raced Gannon to the hospital, but he later died.

Nero was trapped inside with the gunman, bleeding, and time was running out.

Police captured the alleged shooter, then, finally got Nero out, badly wounded. His trainer, a retired K9 officer, ran in to help.

Peter McClelland, Nero’s Trainer: “It was surreal. I just saw that he had been seriously hurt.”

But even though Nero was almost killed in the line of duty, there was one thing his fellow officers were not allowed to do to help him.

Our investigation found though paramedics, EMTs and empty ambulances were also at the scene, none could assist Nero. It’s against state law.

Lt. Jason Davern, EMS Officer, Centerville-Osterville, Marston Mills Fire and Rescue: “K-9s are very near and dear to police officers they are part of the team, they’re an officer.”
Hank: “Under the law would you be allowed to treat Nero?”
Davern: “Currently I would not.”

Inside the ambulance, there was IV fluid, bandages, oxygen, and medication. All off limits.

Sgt. Troy Perry, Barnstable Police: “That fact that we couldn’t use a tool that was available to us because of some law that is really outdated and misunderstood, very frustrating. Beyond frustrating.”

So Sergeant Troy Perry leaped behind the wheel of this police car. While the ambulances still stood empty, first responders carefully laid the bleeding dog across this cramped back seat.

Peter McClelland told me and another officer climbed into the tiny space with him, struggling to keep Nero alive.

McClelland: “We made it work because you do what you have to do.”

With lights and sirens blaring Nero made it to the animal hospital and got the best of care. But with hundreds of other dogs on the front lines of this high-stakes job, the first ones in hot pursuit to face armed suspects and constant danger, experts know the next Massachusetts K-9 officer on duty might not be so lucky.

Davern: “They should to have the same treatment that my brother firefighters and my fellow police officers would receive.”
Hank: “Because?”
Davern: “Because they are a member of the team.”

Nero’s now recovered and here at the Yarmouth police station, he joins those who mourn his partner Sergeant Gannon every day. And their colleagues say: Whether on two legs or four, they should be treated equally, after they equally risk their lives.

Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos, Yarmouth Police: “We look forward not backwards, and this law needs to change.”

Several states recently passed laws allowing police K9’s to be transported in ambulances. And one Beacon Hill lawmaker tells Hank he’s working on having the law changed here in Massachusetts, too.

Here is more information on laws other states passed, information on training and how emergency responders can assist police K9’s and transport in ambulances:

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Maureen McMichael and Dr. Ashley Mitek developed educational tools and resources:
https://vetmed.illinois.edu/2018-graduate-creates-k9-emergency-kits/

Medi K9 USA, kits to assist police dogs:
https://www.medik9usa.com/

Illinois law:
http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=100-0108

New York law:
https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/s4990

Mississippi law:
https://legiscan.com/MS/bill/SB2091/2018

Ohio law, allows first responders to give medical attention to dogs and cats:
http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4765.52