Dog owners will tell you their animals are members of the family. The bond is especially tight when the person wears a uniform and the canine is trained to capture a suspect, potentially saving its partner’s life.
That explains the deep reservoirs of support for a Beacon Hill bill that would allow EMTs to treat police dogs and rush them in their ambulances to veterinarians, provided that no person also needs medical help. Setting loyalties aside, the bill makes good sense, and the Legislature should move quickly to pass it into law.
Nero’s Bill, named for a Yarmouth police dog nearly killed alongside its handler in 2018, stalled during the last session of the Legislature but has since been refiled (H. 2547 / S. 1606). The Joint Committee on Public Safety discussed it at a hearing last week that showed sentiment has only intensified.
Much of it is due to the heroism of Kitt, the 12-year-old Belgian Malinois that was killed during a confrontation in June between three Braintree officers and a man suspected in a domestic dispute. Although two of the officers were shot and Kitt’s handler injured, according to The Patriot Ledger, police credit the K-9 with saving the lives of all three of their men.
“As the suspect repeatedly fired his weapon at very close range at (the officers) K9 Kitt heroically advanced toward the subject, causing him to turn his attention away from the officers,” Braintree police said in a statement. Without Kitt, police surmise the outcome might have been much more tragic. The dog was hailed as a hero that gave his life “for the life of his beloved handler and his partners.” He was memorialized in a ceremony at Gillette Stadium.
Kitt epitomized the loyalty and value of police K-9s, even if the circumstances of the dog’s death aren’t a perfect illustration of the importance of medical intervention. Nero is the case study for that.
Shot in the neck as its handler, Officer Sean Gannon, served a warrant in April 2018, Nero couldn’t legally be helped by multiple ambulances and paramedic crews that rushed to the scene in Marstons Mills. Sgt. Troy Perry, the Barnstable police K-9 supervisor at the scene, later described for lawmakers his choice at the time, knowing that Gannon had been killed and that Nero would likely die as well. Without an ambulance to help, he loaded the dog into the back of a police cruiser with a doctor and retired K-9 officer and rushed to an emergency veterinary clinic. Nero was treated, recovered and retired from the Police Department.
Perry called the law as currently written, “outdated and unrealistic.” He’s right. If a police dog needs help, perhaps on the verge of death, it makes little sense for EMTs to stand frozen by the strictures of laws that require them to only treat humans. With an empty ambulance waiting nearby, the humane thing to do is to treat the dog for its injuries, as much as possible, and rush it someplace that can help.
Rep. Steven Xiarhos, who spent 40 years on the Yarmouth Police Department and filed the bill with Sen. Mark Montigny, described at last week’s hearing the image of Nero being carried out of a house, covered in blood and gasping for breath. According to State House News Service’s account of the hearing, Xiarhos explained, “Despite the paramedics wanting to save him, they could not legally touch K-9 Nero as current Massachusetts law prohibits helping a police animal wounded noted line of duty. It is our duty to protect those who protect us.”
At a hearing for the same measure two years ago, Gannon’s mother described how devastated her son would be to learn that his K-9 partner waited hours for veterinary treatment. She noted that her son had Nero “live not only as working partners but as their family members,” and that no one would accept that level of indifference for a family member in need. “This is something we can fix,” she told lawmakers. “There are things that happened that can’t change, but we can change this.”
It’s up to the Legislature to see that it does.