GREEN PETS AMERICA EDUCATION BULLETIN
K 9 Heat Sensor Chip Technology by Virtual Armor
K 9 Clli attentively followed his partner’s every command: scrambling over a mountain of barrels, dashing through a car window and effortlessly clearing an obstacle course despite the triple-digit heat.
“Atta boy!” Officer Howard McDonald said, praising his canine companion as they circled the K-9 district office of the Arizona Department of Public Safety in Casa Grande.
In warm months, vigorous physical activity for a police dog like Clif can warrant concern from a handler: K-9 officers are required to frequently check on their dogs to make sure they don’t become overheated.
But a new program lets DPS officers monitor their dog’s temperature and location with the help of an Android app.
Officials say the technology could also be used to avoid potentially fatal scenarios, like when a police dog is inadvertently left behind in a patrol car in the Arizona heat.
DPS implemented the yearlong pilot program in January using technology firm Virtual Armor and three of the department’s police dogs: Clif, GoGo and Nico.
“With the high drive of the dog, he doesn’t want to stop. We need to pay attention so we don’t run him into the ground”.
Officer Brian Greene, Arizona Department of Public Safety
Arizona DPS is one of the first law enforcement agencies nationwide to try out the technology, according to Scott Schulze, senior program and engineering manager for Virtual Armor.
“Our goal is to get as many in place as we can,” Shulze said. “We are certainly going to get practical experience (in Phoenix) this summer.”
The technology involves a device implanted in the dog’s neck with a sensor to monitor body temperature and a GPS component to aid in location. Once the dog’s temperature approaches critical condition, the handler is notified by e-mail or text message. A Virtual Armor app also lets the handler track the dog’s temperature in real time.
Last week, Officer Brian Greene checked on Nico’s internal temperature as the dog practiced biting an officer wearing a thick, black dummy suit. The high that day was 104 degrees.
Greene explained that when Nico gets worked up, the dog doesn’t seem to recognize when he needs to take a break.
“With the high drive of the dog, he doesn’t want to stop,” Greene said. “We need to pay attention so we don’t run him into the ground.”
After Greene saw that Nico’s temperature had reached 102.3 degrees, up from 99, he took the dog to rest in his air-conditioned truck.
“It’s exciting for us in law enforcement to see this kind of technology,” said Capt. Jenna Mitchell, K-9 district commander for DPS. “It allows us to provide an extra layer of occupational health and safety for our canines.”
The initial investment is $6,000 per dog in the first year, which includes the device and related technology.
If the yearlong pilot is successful, Mitchell said, DPS will expand the program’s use to include more dogs on the team.
The technology could be especially relevant during the summer months, when the K-9 dogs — which cost Arizona DPS about $7,000 to buy – and thousands more to train — are at risk for injury or death if left in squad cars.
In the past five years, as many police dogs have died in heat-related incidents as have been shot in the line of duty, according to the Pennsylvania K-9 Assistance Foundation. The foundation says 15 to 18 police dogs die of heat-related injuries each year.
Schulze said his company’s technology could have prevented the death of Ike, an Arizona Department of Corrections K-9 left inside the vehicle of his human partner, Officer Jesse Dorantes, for about seven hours in April. Ike was found dead in the back of the SUV, which had been sitting in 98-degree heat.
An analysis showed that Ike died of cardiac, pulmonary and major-organ failures caused by hypothermia.
Dorantes admitted he forgot about Ike after returning his work vehicle to the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye. The officer left work early to tend to a sick child at home.
In Casa Grande, DPS Officer Joey Kretschmer created a scenario where his dog, GoGo, could practice searching for lost evidence. During the 15 minutes they were out in the sun, GoGo’s temperature increased from 100 to 102 degrees.
Kretschmer said the technology was crucial for determining when it was time for GoGo to take a break from the heat.
“We can eliminate a heat problem before it ever occurs,” Kretschmer said. “When we get to a level where we need to bring them out of the field, we can immediately do that and we don’t have to wait until we see signs of heat exhaustion in the day.”
As his partner vigorously sniffed for evidence, Kretschmer was able to monitor his health with the touch of a finger.
“It’s peace of mind,” Kretschmer said. “I get to know that I can focus on my job and let him focus on his job, and the technology will focus on the temperature issue.”