Investigators are conducting a criminal investigation into circumstances surrounding the death of a Sebastian Police Department K-9 in the officer's car in Melbourne on Friday.
The Sebastian officer found the German shepherd’s remains in the sweltering vehicle about 7:30 p.m. Friday. Sebastian Police Department's dispatchers contacted Melbourne's, who then called Brevard County Animal Services. Investigators are looking into reports the officer may have forgotten the dog, named Diesel, was in the vehicle during a visit to the Brevard County courthouse.
"He found the dog deceased in his car. Right now it is a joint investigation. The officer is devastated...it's just awful," said Lt. Cheryl Trainer, spokeswoman for the Melbourne Police Department. "There was no intent. But we have talked with the state attorney's office about the case."
The officer, who has been with the agency for nearly a decade, was not identified and it was not immediately known how long the police dog was in the car or how long after the visit to the courthouse the dog was found. Police are still trying to learn the exact place where the K-9 died. Diesel had been with the department for a year, said John Blackledge, commander of operations for the Sebastian Police Department.
Investigators said the officer had left the Sebastian Police Department about 11 a.m. Friday and was off-duty. Temperatures hovered about 88 degrees for much of the afternoon, National Weather Service officials reported. A necropsy is expected to be conducted, Trainer said.
Diesel, Sebastian Police Department K-9 officer (Photo: Sebastian Police Department)
Blackledge called the incident a tragedy and said his department was conducting its own administrative review of what happened.
“Unfortunately and tragically a Sebastian police canine was found expired Friday evening. This was unexpected,” Blackledge said in an emailed statement.
“The situation is under investigation by the Melbourne Police Department and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services Unit, as that is where the incident occurred. The Sebastian Police Department will conduct the appropriate administrative investigation subsequent to their independent investigation.”
The issue of K-9 officers dying in hot patrol cars is not a new one. The animal rights group PETA issued a report showing there are a number of cases each year involving K-9 officers who are accidentally left behind in hot patrol cars. The advocacy group found that from 2012 to 2014 nationwide, at least 20 police dogs died after their handlers forgot the dogs were in their patrol vehicles.
To address the problem, police trainers have turned to technology and procedures to ensure the safety of the animals. The vehicles used by the K-9 handlers are equipped with alarms and other safety measures that alert the officer, if working properly. All of the Sebastian K-9 cars are equipped with the safety features, Blackledge said.
The Sebastian Police Department has 38 sworn officers and four police dogs that are assigned to handlers. The dogs — which can cost from $6,000 to $12,000 to train and keep — typically stay with their handlers and are treated as comrades.
Susan Naylor, spokeswoman for the SPCA of Brevard animal protection organization, said she has heard of national stories involving police dogs that died after being left in patrol cars. “It’s horrible,” Naylor said.
In general, Naylor said dog owners should be mindful that dogs are particularly sensitive to heat and do not sweat but instead pant to cool off. “Keep in mind that if you park your car, it takes only 10 minutes for the temperature to raise 20 degrees. Even if it’s just 90 degrees, with the windows cracked it can go to 110 degrees," she said.