By Molly Kirk
Everyone knows that leaving a dog in a car during summer heat can be dangerous for the dog, as the temperatures inside a vehicle can reach fatal levels quickly. So how do the K9 handlers of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Conservation Police K9 force keep their canine partners cool and safe? Quite a bit of specialized technology and equipment are installed into a K9 Conservation Police vehicle to make sure the DWR K9s are safe, healthy, and protected.
Each K9 vehicle (usually an SUV or four-door truck) has a special metal kennel with a rubber floor installed into the area of the back seat. The K9s ride in the kennel while the vehicle is in motion, and stay in the kennel unless their handler takes them out. “They have a window where the dog can stick their head out toward the front of the vehicle and an inner door. With the inner kennel door, we can open that back vehicle door and let them get fresh air without worrying about them jumping out of the vehicle,” said CPO James Patrillo, who handles K9 Bailey.
“The kennel itself keeps them safe during sudden stops, if we’re bouncing around going off-road, or if we were to have an accident. They can still move around and lay down or sit,” said Patrillo.
The dogs also have special spill-proof water bowls in their kennels, and water is always available for them.
As for keeping the K9s cool, the CPOs usually leave their vehicles running with the air-conditioning going when the dogs are inside. “We’ll usually do that no matter the time of year,” Patrillo said. “A vehicle sitting in direct sunlight will heat up inside very quickly even if it’s cool outside. Generally if the dog is in the truck, I leave it running.”
There’s a very specialized and high-tech system that monitors the temperature inside the vehicle installed in each K9 unit. The AceK9 Heat Alarm system is professionally installed, mounted above the dog’s kennel, and has multiple temperature sensors in the vehicle. The temperature-monitoring is activated when a CPO inserts the vehicle’s key in the ignition, and de-activated when the kennel door is opened. A CPO can set the heat alarm to a certain temperature, and if the interior of the vehicle reaches that temperature, the alarm texts the CPO with an alert.
“It alerts me that the truck’s getting hot so I can go check on my dog,” Patrillo said. “After a certain amount of time, if I don’t respond, it’ll call me and our dispatch center. Eventually, if there’s still no response, it’ll automatically activate to roll down the vehicle’s windows and turn the fans in the kennel on. It also turns the lights on and makes the horn blow to get attention for someone to get the dog out of the truck.”
The alarm system connects to the CPO’s mobile phone with an app as well, and the CPO can monitor the conditions in the vehicle from the app. “I’ve become very reliant on it. If I have to go somewhere for a meeting, I’ll have my cell phone sitting in front of me,” Patrillo said. “I can look to see the temperature in the truck. The app also tells me engine is on and running and shows the temperature in different zones of the vehicle. I can look at that app and be assured it’s not getting too hot in there.”
The K9 handler CPOs test the heat alarms on weekly basis. The system also allows the CPOs to turn the kennel fans on manually. “If we just ran a really long track and my dog is really hot, I can put her in the kennel and turn the fans on and the AC on and cool her down quickly,” said Patrillo.
“We do everything we can to make sure the K9s are safe and comfortable,” said Patrillo. “These dogs work hard for us, and we want to do our best to keep them healthy and happy.”
Make sure to read more about the DWR K9 program in the September/October issue of Virginia Wildlife magazine and see the Conservation Police section of the DWR website.