Vet: Keeping police K-9s happy, healthy and safe will help community do the same
First a retired state police K-9 died while his handler was out working. Then, within just a few weeks last fall, a second K-9 became ill while on state police duty at Beaver Stadium.
Before long, Penn State K-9 handler and patrol officer Josh Quimby wanted to learn more about how to detect signs of internal distress in working police dogs.
So he called up veterinarian Fred Metzger, and they started laying the groundwork for Thursday’s Working Dog Seminar, held near Metzger Animal Hospital. Nearly 30 handlers from Penn State, Capitol and state police attended — with their K-9s— to review not only first aid and CPR, but also how to prevent and check for early signs of illness in common police breeds.
“Our dogs are so driven, like go, go, go, nonstop,” Quimby said. “So when something is affecting them inside, they don’t show it. It’s not like a human. Last year, I think state police lost three dogs to cancer and things like that.”
With 25 active state police K-9s and three at Penn State, Metzger said keeping the dogs healthy and prolonging their lives is an important part of public safety. When one dog is down, he said, that’s one less that can sniff for explosives at Beaver Stadium or detect narcotics.
The dogs also are expensive, costing departments about $7,000 for an 18-month-old that’s untrained, Quimby said.
Beyond public safety, many officers in attendance just wanted to know how to keep their partner feeling healthy.
“They’re like family members,” Quimby said. “All these dogs come home with each officer and are part of the family.”
Trooper Christina Marth, of Troop B in Washington County, has had her narcotics-detection K-9 Brutus for a little more than four years. The yellow Lab who was deemed “too aggressive” to be a seeing-eye dog rolled over for tummy rubs while other troopers came up to greet him.
Marth said she recently had a health scare with Brutus. He woke her up in the middle of the night with vomiting and diarrhea, but before that, she could tell something was wrong, she said. She just wasn’t sure what.
“I can notice the slightest change in my dog because of the bond we have with each other,” she said. “So I knew something was wrong.”
With the knowledge she learned Thursday, Marth said she now has a better understanding of illness signs and symptoms common in Labs, and what to do to help Brutus before and during that four-hour car ride to the emergency vet.
As some handlers, like Marth, don’t live close to emergency vets, Metzger also wanted to help equip each of them with a standardized first-aid kit. Not only for the police dogs, the kits can be used on strays or dogs found hit along the road.
After the group brainstormed what items to include in such kits, Metzger hopes to reach out to the community for fundraising help for those items — such as surgical staple guns, poison control supplies and bandages. He set up a website at https://fundly.com/pa-police-k9-emergency-trauma-first-aid-supplies, with the goal of raising $10,000.
“We take care of people’s pets, and these dogs are working dogs, not just pets,” he said. “They’re really important to everyone’s safety in our community. So if we can keep them healthy, happy and safe, then they can make us healthy, happy and safe.”
Metzger hopes the group can meet again once the kits are assembled and go over how to use each item, he said. He’s also offering each police K-9 a free blood workup and screening, and encourages blood work on an annual basis for prevention purposes.