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California

Death of police dog in hot car sparks outrage, investigation

A Long Beach police K-9 named Ozzy died after being left in a hot vehicle.
A Long Beach police K-9 named Ozzy died after being left in a hot vehicle.
(Long Beach Police Department)

The Long Beach Police Department has launched an internal investigation into the death of one of its police dogs who was found dead in his handler’s patrol car earlier this month from apparent overheating.

Ozzy, a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois-German shepherd mix, was found dead Aug. 14 in his handler’s department-issued vehicle while both were off-duty.

Preliminary results from a veterinarian’s examination determined the death to have been heat-related. Officials initially said that the heat-controlling system inside the vehicle had failed, and that the alert system that was supposed to be connected to the handler’s cellphone had malfunctioned.

“After conducting a review of circumstances surrounding the death of K-9 Ozzy, the department has initiated an internal affairs investigation to obtain additional facts and information pertaining to the incident,” officials announced Wednesday on Facebook.

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The Police Department would not provide further details about the investigation or what prompted it.

A Times request for information about how long Ozzy was left alone and whether it was confirmed that the heat-controlling system had malfunctioned and that the handler had set up the alert system prior to the dog’s death has so far gone unanswered.

Long Beach police have not identified Ozzy’s handler. Ozzy had worked as a K-9 for more than five years.

Officials have not said whether Ozzy and the officer were in Long Beach when Ozzy’s death was discovered. Midafternoon temperatures in Long Beach at the time were between 81 and 84 degrees, according to a weather archive.

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If the K-9’s death is determined to be heat-related, it would appear to be the first such police dog death reported in California since 2015.

That same year, the Green Bay Press Gazette found that at least 46 police dogs throughout the U.S. had died from excessive 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. Malfunctioning fail-safe controlling systems have often been blamed.

“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 the 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.”

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. Wood said these types of cases are typically resolved within the department. One of the few instances that resulted in an animal cruelty charge occurred in 2015, after an Ohio police officer left his K-9 partner in his hot vehicle for four hours.

Animal rights advocates have long reminded people that it doesn’t take much time for an animal to suffer from heat.

“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.”


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