K-9 officers learn how to recognize a dog in distress

NEWELL – The hazards of policing are compounded when the one doing the policing is a German shepherd.

Dogs can’t communicate the way people do, so it’s up to the K-9 handler to read the symptoms if the dog is in distress, said Dr. Amy Chronister, veterinarian with Sunny Ridge Veterinary Services in Rogers, Ohio.

“The faster you act, the better chance you have of saving the dog’s life,” Chronister told a group of K-9 officers from across West Virginia on Tuesday.

Chronister taught a 90-minute class on dog first aid for the 20th annual state seminar of the West Virginia Police Canine Association, which is being hosted by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. Seminar organizer Deputy 1st Class Scott Little said Chronister donated her services.

Focusing on German shepherds, Chronister talked about how to give a dog a physical, what to do if a narcotics dog ingests drugs, how to help a patrol dog that has been stabbed or shot, and what happens when a tracking dog is dehydrated.

Chronister suggests that K-9 officers keep a first aid kit in their cruisers containing a thermometer, a towel, a box of plastic wrap or something similar, bandage material, hydrogen peroxide and syringes for dosing hydrogen peroxide.

The latter can be used to induce vomiting in a dog that has ingested certain drugs, she said, cautioning that the technique is not recommended if the dog has ingested poisonous chemicals.

Seven ounces of marijuana can kill a dog, and heroin can be absorbed within seconds, Chronister said.

“Of all the drugs your dog can get into, (heroin) is the most deadly. It takes a very small amount, so you’ll want to act fast,” she said. “If they sniff it as a powder, the lining in their noses is already absorbing it.”

One “positive” aspect of heroin exposure is the fact that it slows down the digestive system, which gives the handler more time to induce vomiting, she said.

In addition to hydrogen peroxide, Chronister also recommends activated charcoal, which is used for a wide variety of toxic ingestion situations to prevent absorption and ease passage of the toxin.

Chronister said different actions are indicated depending on if the dog has ingested depressants, stimulants or hallucinogens. The best thing to do? “Get the dog to a vet,” she said.

As for gunshot wounds, stabs, blunt trauma and bone breaks, Chronister said there’s more that a handler can do. “If they’re bleeding, you want to stop the bleeding. If their bone is broken, you want to stabilize it,” she said.

Chronister recommends steady, constant pressure – not a tourniquet – to stop the bleeding. For open chest wounds, it’s important to keep air from getting into the wound by using plastic wrap and a binding agent, she said.

If an object is penetrating the dog, it should not be removed until taken to a veterinarian because it is doing the job of sealing the wound, she said.

For dehydration, look for gums that are tacky to the touch or panting with no saliva, she said. Get the dog to water and a cooler environment as soon as possible, she said.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)