DOC takes action in hot car death of Rockview drug dog

Action has been taken in the death of a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections drug dog.

Totti, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador, died after being left in a car on a hot July day for more than two hours. DOC Secretary John Wetzel ordered an investigation into the incident. The results and consequences of that investigation were announced Thursday.

The dog’s death prompted heated response from the local community and nationally, including a protest at the courthouse and thousands of signatures on an online petition demanding that someone be fired for the dog’s death.

According to the DOC, Wetzel “has taken immediate administrative action and reassigned the two individuals involved to non-canine duties at a state correctional institution.”

The DOC had previously confirmed the name of Totti’s handler, Chad Holland. The name of the supervisor was not released. The two were identified in the press release only as “a captain and a sergeant.” They are noted to be remaining at Rockview in their new positions, while a “senior DOC officer with military K-9 experience has been assigned to lead the Drug Interdiction Unit.”

“While the investigation concluded that this was not an intentional act and we recognize that those involved are devastated by what happened — as all of us are — this does not excuse the outcome,” Wetzel said. “Therefore I have moved both individuals out of the unit, and we will let the disciplinary process take its course.”

That is not the only action that may be taken, however. According to the DOC, an internal disciplinary review will now be conducted to see if there will be any further recourse.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller said she had requested the investigation and was following up on the dog’s death.

“We are still receiving information related to the matter necessary for reviewing it,” Parks Miller said.

“The DOC is fully cooperating with the Centre County District Attorney’s Office and is providing the investigative report, along with any additional information requested, to the DA’s office and to the Pennsylvania State Police,” the DOC statement said.

Additional recommendations were made as part of the investigation, including reviewing specific responsibilities for K-9 staff and policies regarding “responsibility and care for unassigned dogs ... including the transporting and holding of dogs in vehicles.”

The DOC also said it is “examining the purchase of heat alarm equipment that can be used in K-9 vehicles in order to help prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.”

“I am very happy to see the DOC is considering heat alarms for their vehicles for working canines,” Parks Miller said. “These monitor and alert high heat vehicle cabin temperatures and some models can even pop open doors when AC units fail. This is the least we can do for working companions who are so obedient, loyal and rely on us for their care and safety.”

Parks Miller said the alarms also work as cold-weather alerts.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce