Local first responders train to save injured K9 officers, thanks to nonprofit

New Florida law lets paramedics, EMTs provide emergency medical care to police K9s

Our K9 police officers are getting a lifeline. The animals face many dangers on the job like their human counterparts, but until now they didn’t have access to the same kind of emergency medical care.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Our K9 police officers are getting a lifeline. The animals face many dangers on the job like their human counterparts, but until now they didn’t have access to the same kind of emergency medical care.

A new Florida law allows first responders to treat injured K9 officers – even transport them by ambulance – for everything from gunshots to burns to other injuries they may receive on the job.

And thanks to the local nonprofit K9s United, nearly 100 police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and EMTs from nearly a dozen agencies met in Jacksonville for groundbreaking training so they know what to do to treat an injured police K9.

The first responders simulated all kinds of worst-case scenarios using a lifelike simulator dog, but the danger is a reality for police K9s and their handlers.

“Shots fired! Communicate! You’ve got a down dog,” is heard during the simulation.

In the drill, a K9 officer is shot with the suspect is still firing. As some officers provide cover, other work to stop the bleed on the injured animal.

During the simulation, this is what can be heard:

“Hands up suspect. Step to the sound of my voice.”

“Remember, don’t wrap super tight.”

“Remember, hold that direct pressure. Secure that with a bandage.”

A lot was going on during the drill to secure the suspect, protect other officers and give lifesaving care to the K9.

Trainer Matthew Casey, a former SWAT medic in South Florida, guided the teams step by step, and he built them special kits specifically for K9 care.

“The biggest thing is to get that dog out of the open and get behind hard cover. People, mission, then dog,” Casey said.

Matthew Casey, a former SWAT medic in South Florida, guids first responders from across Florida how to treat an injured K9 officer. (WJXT)

As a SWAT medic, Casey responded to the Parkland school shooting and the attack at Fort Lauderdale International Airport and is now teaching police and firefighters emergency first aid – not just for human, but service animals too.

“Trainings like this, they don’t happen often in the government setting,” Casey added.

Medic trainer Matthew Casey uses a simulation dog to instruct first responders on how to treat a real-life injured K9 officer. (WJXT)

K9s United sponsored the training session at Jacksonville’s Police Academy. Dozens of law enforcement officers from nine agencies took part.

“When we do these training seminars, they are free to the agency,” said Debbie Johnson, founder of K9s United.

Besides this type of training, the local nonprofit provides K9s and their handlers with safety equipment and resources.

“These K9s are put into all sorts of situations, whether they are tracking a missing person, there could be a snakebite, there’s multiple different things,” she said.

Johnson founded K9s United back in 2015 after a suspect shot and killed St. Johns County Sheriff K9 Baron. She helped make Florida Senate Bill 388 a law – which allows paramedics and EMTs to treat injured police K9s and transport them to a hospital or vet clinic.

It didn’t take long for the law to be used locally. K9 teams were chasing Patrick McDowell, the man accused of shooting and killing Nassau County Deputy Joshua Moyers during a traffic stop in September.

Deputies said McDowell shot K9 Chaos. His handler, Officer D. Cullen, had K9 first aid training and helped with immediate medical care -- even starting an IV -- as rescuers rushed the injured dog to an emergency vet.

“When you’re talking about a gunshot wound, those first few critical moments, it’s huge,” said Johnson, adding that training absolutely saved K9 Chaos’ life.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Sergeant Charlie Byrd and his K9 Patriot. (WJXT)

Firefighters taking part in the session provided by K9s United says this kind of training will save lives.

“Now in the future, I feel a lot more comfortable working with any of the agencies and their dogs,” said Captain Candace O’Connell with Jacksonville Fire and Rescue.

Before the new law passed, O’Connell and her team responded to a fire where ATF K9 Bane was trapped in a burning SUV.

“By time we got them out, he was seriously injured, and we had no training on what to do,” she said.

Instinct kicked in and they treated the dog and rushed it to a vet -- in an ambulance. K9 Bane recovered and O’Connell says it’s an important lesson for how all first responders should be prepared.

This training is a big relief for John Long, a Clay County firefighter and member of Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Team.

“What does this training mean to you?” Long was asked.

“Well, it’s a long time coming. It’s one of those things,” he answered.

Long and his two service dogs face the risk of injury daily – recently working the Surfside Condo Collapse.

John Long, a Clay County firefighter and member of Florida's Urban Search and Rescue Team, with his two service dogs at the Surfide condo collapse in South Florida. (WJXT)

“With this training that we are getting today, we are able to extend that time just like we would if we were working on people. Extend that time before we can get them to a medical facility.”

Johnson says K9s United is raising money for more training sessions so everyone in the line of duty can be prepared. She says the nonprofit is now coordinating training with Florida Highway Patrol K9 units throughout the state.

There are multiple ways you can help through the organization’s website.

You can donate, shop the nonprofit’s store, take part in an upcoming event, and you can even preorder a K9s United Florida license plate.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.