The vehicle’s air conditioner was on. The windows were open. But in the 94-degree heat, that was not enough to protect Turbo, a police dog left in the car for six hours.
For some unexplained reason, Master Police Officer David Hurt turned off the vehicle’s heat alarm and failed to even come to his vehicle to let the Labrador retriever mixÂ use the bathroom.Â
Hurt, a member of the Columbia, South Carolina, Police DepartmentÂ has been suspended without pay for five days but won’t face criminal charges, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said at a news conference this week.
The chief also presented findings of the internal investigation to prosecutors, who decided that Hurt used terrible judgment but wasn’t criminally negligent and no charges should be filed over the July 26 incident.
“It was a mistake of the heart he will have to deal with the rest of his life,” said Holbrook, who added he didn’t fire Hurt because he immediately took responsibility for his grave error.
Hurt also will be suspended from the bomb squad and can never handle a police dog again.
At least three police dogs have died from heat stress inside vehicles so far in 2018 and that number is unofficial because there is no requirement to report the deaths of police dogs to the government, said Catie Cryar, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Last year, PETA counted 13 police dog heat deaths, Cryar said, while the website had seven dogs killed by gunfire and two stabbed to death.
“We appreciate these dogs and we need to make sure our actions show it,” said James Hatch, who founded a group to protect police and military dogs after a K-9 saved his life during his last deployment as a Navy Seal.
Hatch’s Spikes K9 Fund raises money for body armor to protect dogs, but also for heat alarms that start by sounding a horn and alerting a handler’s cellphone when temperatures in a vehicle get dangerous for a dog and continue to escalate until eventually popping open the door so the dog can get out.
Turbo was the first dog given to Hurt, who was selected to be a handler and went through hundreds of hours of training. The 22-month-old explosive-sniffing dog had been with Hurt for seven months.
Hurt was at a high school July 26, getting active shooter training, and didn’t take the dog inside because of the loud noises and crowd, Holbrook said.
Other handlers also left dogs inside vehicles because they could be needed for a call on a moment’s notice but they all checked on their animals frequently, the chief said.
When Hurt returned to his vehicle at the end of the day, Turbo had white foam around his mouth and was listless. Hurt immediately recognized the dog was suffering from heat stress and took it to a veterinarian. The dog was euthanized two days later after suffering organ failure, Holbrook said
The high temperature in Columbia that day was 94 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Investigators don’t know the temperature in Hurt’s vehicle because he immediately went to the vet, the police chief said.
Hurt accepted the punishment and remains heartbroken at what happened, Holbrook said. He has children who loved the dog.
“It’s like losing a partner or a family member,” the chief said. “It is devastating.”
Holbrook estimated the police department lost about $25,000 in training and other expenses from the dog’s death.