Celebrating Heroes

Mass. Bill Seeks to Legalize EMTs Treating Line-of-Duty Injured Police K9s

A bill proposed in Massachusetts grabbed me because of the heartstrings I harbor for animals in general and because of the experiences working among police canines in particular. I wear it on my sleeve, both when I formerly donned the blue police uniform and now, in civilian attire.

Subscribing to an infinite number of law enforcement forums, I naturally receive tons of police news. Among them are the passion-inducing sentiments I have for canines at the dog parks (Siberian Husky at my side) and on-duty police dogs providing my police cohorts immense joy, both at home and on the beat. And that last part sometimes goes bizarrely awry.

One such horrid police episode we published on OpsLens entailed Yarmouth policeman Sean Gannon and his canine partner “Nero” encountering a proverbial career criminal who had no intention of changing his life but had every aim of gunning down anyone or anything even remotely in his reticle. Attempting to serve the latest warrant with a particular pregnant-woman-strangling monster’s name on it, Officer Sean Gannon was shot and killed. Nero was also shot. As Kathleen McKiernan wrote in the Boston Herald, “As Nero lay by Gannon, a question arose as to whether first responders could help the injured animal.” Humans bound by codes and cannons often bundled with restrictions for various reasons sometimes spells handcuffed.

Indeed, department policies and the omnipresent “L” word, Liabilities, are always gorillas on the backs of first responders. In the Yarmouth example, however, it appears the heartstrings were strumming loud enough to beckon change in the realm of humanitarianism.

Without the actual police and/or paramedics’ reports right in front of me, we can assume Nero was ultimately somehow (I bet it was in a police cruiser) swiftly transported to an animal hospital where he was treated by a veterinarian. It appeared bleak at times, but Nero survived. Social media circulations of Nero’s progress went far and wide.

Specifically, Nero took a bullet to the face. Fortunately, he pulled through despite his stark prognosis. Given how close he came to Rainbow Bridge though, what could have been implemented for Nero at the shooting scene? Would readily-available medical measures have abbreviated his recuperation period? Would field care enabled enough optimization to return to full-active duty? What about other police dogs in similar dire straits on duty? Surely, the time it takes to board then transport an injured police dog to a veterinarian who happens to be readily available engenders the possibility of  more foresight with respect to animal salvation and maximal rehabilitation.

HD.1332, otherwise known as “Nero’s Bill,” was introduced by State Rep. William L. Crocker, Jr. (R-Barnstable) and co-sponsored by 18 other lawmakers seeking to do right by these police service dogs. (Incidentally, for those keeping political score, this bill is a bipartisan effort involving 11 Republicans and eight Democrats.)

Yarmouth happens to be in Massachusetts, where the bill we are discussing was basically born. Yes, the title above reflects the word “legalize” since it is currently illegal for a first responder trained to mitigate medical woes from doing so when it comes to shot, stabbed, run-over, half-drowned, or brutalized police canines sustaining catastrophic on-duty circumstances. Saving injured police dogs as soon as practicable (the bill proposes tending to humans before animals) is the furnished objective.

According to the Boston Herald, currently, “Massachusetts laws penalize emergency medical technicians [EMTs] if they assist an animal in an emergency.” Rep. Crocker’s proposal “prioritizes humans requiring medical attention before animals receive care, and absolves emergency personnel from liability. It also allows for licensed veterinarians to provide written guidelines or provide consultation with EMTs providing animal care [in the field], and similarly gives those vets protection from post-incident liability.”

That last paragraph has some intriguing red herrings, like the liabilities and policy implications we alluded to above. Instead of going back and sifting through why that is, it merits accolades regarding forward-motion legislations to overcome any idiosyncrasies relating to police service animals and first responder protections.

Introducers and co-sponsors of the bill are trying to overcome said idiosyncrasies. As Yarmouth police Chief Frank Frederickson told the media in response to hearing about this bill: “We owe it to an animal we are pulling into service to do the best we can [for it]. It’s common sense.” Common sense indeed. There is not much sense in swearing an oath to render aid and then be told there are circumstances whereby a first responder of any sort —EMT, firefighter or cop— is to refrain from administering life-sustaining measures for which they were thoroughly trained. Heck, it is inherent in their oath. It’s basic human decency.

A similar law in Illinois was passed in August 2017. Enacted by then-Governor Bruce Rauner, the law clarifies that ambulance crews can transport injured police dogs to the nearest veterinary hospital, providing for humans first. It is what it is, but I can not envision an injured police dog being left on the pavement because the bus (ambulance) is chock full of human forms. I can see any injured and conscious policeman or policewoman scooting over on the gurney, making room for his or her service partner. An I’m not leaving without you! kind of moment.

Per The News-Gazette, “…there was nothing under [Illinois] state law that prevented paramedics from providing first aid to an injured animal.” So it seems readily available medical care could be administered, but transports to vet hospitals were prohibited, potentially leading to the death of police canines. Having been around ample police canine units (human/animal pairs)in Florida, I could tell you that any duty-related injured law enforcement dog was routinely carted to a vet in a police cruiser. In the Illinois law, they paired medical field treatment with emergency medical transport.

What is really cool about the Illinois legislation is that a University of Illinois veterinarian agreed to train EMTs in fundamental emergency veterinary care and treatment, and an ambulance company signed on to transport all injured police-service canines for free. I guess public relations insights and big hearts kicked in; seeing one non-hospital affiliated ambulance company sign on compelled a competing ambulance company to follow suit.

Illinois state Rep. Carol Sente, (D-Vernon Hills) wrote the legislation with the following sentiments at heart: “Our canine officers are a vital part of our state, county and local police […] departments. They are on the front line assisting their handlers to reduce drug traffic and other crimes. We need to get a police dog injured in the line of duty to the nearest veterinary clinic as quickly as possible for life-saving measures, just as we would another member of the police department.”

Indeed, just as we would any other member of any law enforcement agency battling our nation’s woes. Dog-lover or not, it is the right thing to do when confronted with potential mortality stemming from service to citizens. Besides, the people (taxpayers) paid for and thus co-own those dogs as well, so protecting an investment is principled.

As Yarmouth police Chief Frederickson summed up the cause: “We have emergency personnel standing by and we have a police dog wounded. We should do the best we can.”

After his police shooting incident/injury and modeling career (Nero doll), Nero’s forever home turned out to be where he’s always been. As an update provided by the Yarmouth PD: “Many people from all over the world continue to ask about our beloved K9 Nero…we are thankful to report that K9 Nero has fully recovered from his wounds and is enjoying his retirement from police service back home, living with the Gannon Family.”

As of February 26, 2019, the Nero Bill was forwarded to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security where it is being considered.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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