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New program to rush aid to K-9 officers injured in the line of duty

Posted at 4:50 PM, Feb 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-20 18:50:49-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A new program from Intermountain Health aims to help K-9 officers injured in the line of duty.

Public safety animals run the same risks as human officers in dangerous situations, and don't typically have access to immediate medical care like human first responders do.

"It's something we've been worried about. We play the 'what if' game, and this was lacking," said North Salt Lake police K-9 handler, Mike Boyle. "I think it fills a big void.”

The Intermountain Life Flight program is the third of its kind in the country and will launch its unique K-9 Medical Air Transit Service for public safety animals injured in the line of duty.

"In the past, there wasn't many resources available for these K-9s if they were injured in the field, and these K-9s can range anywhere from $30,000-60,000 to train, and they provide a pretty precise asset to that community,” said Pamela Smeal, a registered nurse and lead educator with Intermountain Life Flight.

Clinical staff have also been trained to intervene with life-saving measures if needed, and to get the animals to the 24-hour critical care vet hospital that they need to go to.

"Every time a dog goes out on the road, there's that hazard, you never know,” added Boyle. “It's like trying to anticipate an officer being shot. You don't know what's going to happen, but there’s the likelihood that it does, it's too late to try to figure out what to do — you have to have something in place."

The program and the reason for it hits home for the West Jordan Police Department after one of their own, K-9 Maya, was shot and killed in the line of duty in February 2022.

"It's immeasurable the pain that we felt from that, and we are still trying to recover from it today,” said Sgt. Kendall Holt with West Jordan police. “We've done things to try to better ourselves, this program is one of those things.

"We found discrepancies inevitably that we're working on. Our K-9 handlers are actively receiving training, tactical medical training, some of that same training we receive as officers for other officers and civilians."

The flights are not just for police K-9 officers, but search and rescue dogs as well.

"I'm really glad that they're offering this because knowing that they're out there and available to help our dogs is a wonderful thing,” said Andrew Bowersox, a ski patroller at Powder Mountain Resort.

The flights, which have been operational since Feb. 1, have not yet been needed for K-9 officers.