A police dog died this month after being left in his handler’s hot vehicle, in what appears to be the first reported heat-related police dog death in California since 2015.
The Long Beach Police Department announced Friday that the dog and his handler were off-duty at the time of the dog’s death. The dog named Ozzy died after being left in the department-issued vehicle when a fail-safe controlling system malfunctioned, as has been the case with past K-9 deaths throughout the country.
“We do not advocate for the use of these systems because they are fallible. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a report of one of these systems failing,” said Kathleen Wood, staff attorney with Animal Legal Defense Fund’s criminal justice program. “We try to tell people that you should never leave an animal in a vehicle, even for a few minutes.”
According to Long Beach police, the system uses a cellphone app to signal when the vehicle is getting too warm.
“At this time, we believe this alert may not have been working,” Long Beach police public information officer Arantxa Chavarria said in a statement.
In 2015, the Green Bay Press Gazette found that at least 46 police dogs throughout the U.S. died from heat while inside their handlers’ cars from 2011 to 2015. In the years since, heat-related K-9 deaths, including heat exhaustion from being left in a vehicle, have continued.
Animal rights advocates have long reminded people that it doesn’t take long for an animal to suffer from heat. Long Beach police officials did not say how long Ozzy was left in the vehicle.
“Temperatures inside cars can reach fatal levels within minutes,” Wood said. “Don’t hesitate to call the police if you see any animal inside any vehicle.”
In California, it is illegal to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle when conditions may endanger its health and well-being. Circumstances include heat and cold as well as a lack of adequate ventilation, food or water.
Long Beach police described the death as accidental. Wood said these cases are typically resolved within the department.
According to a Signal Tribune profile on Ozzy from October, the dog was a half Belgian Malinois and half German shepherd. He had worked as a K-9 for more than five years.