Though K-9s put themselves at the same risk as their police handlers, they don’t receive completely equal treatment when it comes to healthcare. These dogs enter crime scenes, chase down criminals, and sniff out missing persons and weapons. They can be, and often are, severely injured doing this important but dangerous work.
However, when a human officer gets severely injured in the line of duty, they’re put into an ambulance or helicopter for fast transport to a hospital. When a police dog experiences similar trauma, their handler places them in the back of a squad car to speed through traffic to a veterinarian. This method allows life-saving minutes to tick by.
Kristin Uhlin, lead K-9 trainer for Houston Police Department’s narcotic detail, believes these dogs deserve more.
“We refer to them as our partners. A dog is there to save an officer’s life. If a bullet is fired at an officer, the dog is the one to take it. They’re such amazing creatures, and they don’t ask for anything in return for the job they do but love.”
That’s why Memorial Hermann Life Flight launched a helicopter service specifically for police dogs in early December. Thomas Flanagan, Memorial Hermann’s Vice President of trauma service line and system integration, explained:
“We all know how important K-9s are. A K-9 is integral for law enforcement — and the challenges law enforcement has to face for our personal protection. The K-9 is really considered a law enforcement officer, who serves and protects the public.”
About The K9 Casualty Care Course And Transportation Service
According to the Texas Operational Canine Committee, this new program is the nation’s first nongovernment agency program to provide treatment and transportation for injured K-9 officers. Flanagan said Life Flight will operate similarly for the dogs as it would for humans. The difference is instead of heading to a hospital, the ambulance will take the K-9 to a partnering veterinarian. Each of these locations has 24-hour access and a helipad or designated area for Life Flight to land.
Memorial Hermann also provides critical canine care training for officers that includes wound packing, CPR, poison control and tourniquet use. K-9 handlers learn which circumstances warrant a call to Life Flight, and at the end of the course each handler receives a K-9 specialized first aid kit. We Ride to Provide, an organization that honors fallen police dogs, donated the first aid kits.
Since spring of 2019, over 100 K-9 handlers and 40 emergency medical services and fire personnel have undergone the training to properly treat their injured dogs. With an estimated 200 police canines in the greater Houston area, The Life Flight team will continue offering three to five training classes each month. This program will save many working dogs’ lives!
A Long Time In The Works
Though new, the idea of a service specifically for K-9s has been on Memorial Hermann’s back burner since Life Flight was created in 1976. Flanagan explained that the late Dr. James Duke had always wanted Life Flight, the second air ambulance program in the country, to extend its services to K-9 officers. Flanagan noted: “That was his goal and his dream.”
“We’ve been working on this for quite some time. When you run an air medical program, you’ve got to be laser focused on what the objective is and all that’s involved. We worked really hard putting this program together.”
Though Sita, the K-9 who served the department for over 13 years died before the program launched, she prepared flight crews as the first dog to fly on Life Flight. Uhlin takes comfort knowing how many other dogs will benefit from groundwork Sita laid.
“It’s nice to know that dogs are earning the respect they deserve, to be treated in this way.”
What a great way to thank and value our K-9 heroes!