PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A bill in the R.I. House would allow a law enforcement dog injured on duty to be taken by ambulance to a veterinary hospital if the ambulance isn’t needed for a human.
The addition to the Animal Care section of state law was introduced last year by R.I. Rep. David A. Bennett, whose district covers parts of Cranston and Warwick. The bill expired in the COVID-shortened legislative season of 2020, Bennett said, and he reintroduced it on Monday. It was referred to the House Health, Education & Welfare Committee.
The measure defines police dogs as dogs assisting a law-enforcement or military entity with such tasks as search and rescue, detecting accelerants in the aftermath of a fire, finding drugs and sweeping for bombs.
Bennett said the bill does not give pets the right to be taken by ambulance to a veterinarian, even in an emergency.
The bill calls for law enforcement K9s injured on the job to get life-saving emergency medical services while in the ambulance. The EMT may perform mouth-to-snout resuscitation, give the dog oxygen, apply pressure to stop blood loss, stabilize broken bones, apply bandages, and if necessary and the handler allows, administer Narcan to stop a drug overdose.
The bill frees the EMT from being liable for a vet bill or for mistakes in treating the dog. The EMT may require the dog’s handler to ride in the ambulance.
Bennett said he was inspired to write the bill because of what happened to Yarmouth, Massachusetts, K9 Nero when he and his partner, Sgt. Sean Gannon, was shot on April 12, 2018. Gannon and Nero, as part of a team trying to serve a search warrant on a career criminal, were in an attic in Barnstable, removing insulation behind which the suspect was hiding. Thomas Latanowich shot through the insulation, killing Gannon and hitting Nero in the face and neck.
Nero, who had taken bullets for Gannon, needed life-saving measures, but he had to go to the vet in a police car because ambulances were barred from transporting animals.
Nero survived emergency surgery and recovered.
Bennett said he believes “it sends a strong message when we don’t take care of the animals that work for us. Unfortunately that officer was dead; that animal was alive.”
Bennett said if he were the officer, he would want the best possible emergency care for his partner, especially if the rescue was right there and no human needed it. With COVID, he said, “we’ve become a lot more aware about cleaning,” removing that objection to transporting a police dog.
Latanowich, then of Somerville, pleaded not guilty. In December, he was given a trial date of Aug. 2. He asked to have the case moved off Cape Cod, his lawyer saying that widespread news coverage would make finding a jury difficult. The request was denied last week.
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