A Metropolitan Police Department dog was found dead inside a police vehicle Monday afternoon, outside the Northeast D.C. headquarters for the bomb squad.
A police spokesperson confirms the death of the dog, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois, named Rocket, who was assigned to the bomb squad, is now under investigation and that preliminary reports say the dog was left alone inside a police vehicle.
While temperatures were only in the 80s Monday, temperatures inside a vehicle can get much hotter.
Law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation told News4 the dog was left in his handler's marked SUV with the air conditioning running, but at some point, the air conditioner failed and the dog died inside the car.
Most recognized guidelines for first responders advise against leaving police dogs unattended in vehicles. However, a D.C. police spokesperson said there is no written policy that addresses how dogs should be kept when not on active duty.
D.C. Fire and Emergency Services, which has four search and rescue dogs, also acknowledged they do not have a written policy on leaving dogs unattended in vehicles.
Sources told News4 it’s common for officers to leave police K-9s alone in cars with the air conditioning running. Many of the cars are equipped with devices — the most common is known as a "hot pup" — which alert a dog's handler if the temperature inside rises to unsafe levels. In some cases, these devices even can lower a vehicle's windows automatically.
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“All K9 vehicles at MPD are equipped with a temperature monitoring and alarm system that should activate when the interior environment of the vehicle exceeds a safe temperature," authorities said in a statement. "A full inspection of the vehicle is being conducted to determine if the system malfunctioned."
Police are investigating whether this car's alarm was working correcting and/or whether human error was involved. A necropsy will also be conducted to determine how Rocket died.
Mitzi Nash is a part of Irondog K9 International, a non-profit that works with law enforcement agencies across the country.
"Quite commonly, [the dogs] also go home with the officers, so they become virtually a part of their family in many senses," she said. "The loss of a K-9 is a huge impact, not only to a department and the community, but also to the handler and his family."
Marie Drissel a longtime supporter of the D.C. police K9 unit said the incident is a tragedy.
“This is a loss for the family, for all the K9 teams across the country, it's very tragic,” Drissel said.
D.C. police have about 20 K-9s in the department.
While this case remains under investigation a police spokesperson told News4 there’s been no immediate change to policies and officers are still allowed to leave their K9s in their vehicles.
The officer involved, who was the dog's handler, remains on full active duty pending the investigation. The officer is a senior member of that department and would have been trained on those hot car devices.