At recent training sessions for first responders, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine faculty trained participants on how to treat and transport police K-9s in Massachusetts
On Jan. 31, more than 400 emergency medical services (EMS) professionals gathered at Gillette Stadium for a training session on how to triage and transport police K-9s. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University were among the medical professionals conducting the training under Nero’s Law, which allows police K-9s in Massachusetts to receive emergency care and transportation to a veterinary hospital by EMS professionals.
The bill was co-sponsored by Massachusetts State Rep. Steven Xiarhos (R-Barnstable) and Sen. Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford) in response to the line-of-duty shooting in 2018 that killed Yarmouth Police Sergeant Sean Gannon and severely injured his K-9 partner, Nero. The law has been used at least twice since it was signed in April 2022. The first time was in Fitchburg, when a suspect wanted on firearms charges shot and killed a state police K-9. And the second time was in Westborough, when a state police trooper and his K-9 partner were struck from behind while in their cruiser working a road detail on I-495. The trooper was transported to a local hospital, and the K-9 was transported by the Westborough Fire Department to Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Cummings School in Grafton.
“This training gives us the opportunity to transport police K-9s to an appropriate facility and while doing so, deliver medical care in an effort to make the K-9 more comfortable and hopefully improve their outcome,” said Westborough Fire Department Chief Patrick Purcell. “Being able to transport the police K-9 injured in the motor vehicle crash to Tufts was very rewarding. This is the bare minimum we can do to make sure K-9s are taken care of should they get hurt doing the job that they were asked to do.”
The training requires participants to complete an online program with a written exam and to attend a more hands-on session. For the latter, Cummings School worked with the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, which reached out to veterinarians throughout the state to teach the training and assisted in the coordination of training sessions. On Jan. 31, participants rotated among four stations: bleeding control, physical exam, CPR, and restraint and handling.
At the bleeding control station, a group of EMTs and firefighters knelt around Diesel, a simulation mannequin from Cummings School. Diesel had a severe leg injury, and the group was practicing how to properly tourniquet a K-9. Critical care veterinarian Elizabeth Rozanski, associate professor at Cummings School, and Mike Santasieri, certified veterinary technician at Foster Hospital for Small Animals, explained to participants that the technique they may use on human patients won’t necessarily work on a K-9, because a dog’s leg is shaped differently than a human leg.
At the physical exam station, trainees learned that the easiest way to check a K-9’s pulse is not in the neck, but using the femoral pulse, located on the inside of the hind leg where it meets the body. They practiced finding the pulse, checking teeth, and other elements of a physical exam with the help of a few real—and very cooperative—police K-9s. The trainers also explained how anaphylaxis presents differently in dogs than in humans (more gastrointestinal symptoms) and where to inject emergency medications such as epinephrine.
At the CPR station, veterinary professionals demonstrated the differences between performing CPR on a dog compared to a human (lay the K-9 on its side and perform compressions on the widest part of the chest) and participants practiced chest compressions on four simulation mannequins. The trainers told the EMS professionals that the resistance in the mannequins’ chests mimics what they would encounter with a real K-9.
Two main points were emphasized at the restraint and handling station: the safety of human patients and EMS professionals should be the priority in any emergency, and the K-9’s handler is the greatest ally and best source of information about the dog.
“The bond between a K-9 handler and their K-9 is like no other,” said Sergeant Andrew Beaulieu, a K-9 handler with the Easthampton Police Department, who was one of the trainers at the restraint and handling station with his K-9 partner, Gino, a 7-year-old Belgian Malinois. “The handler is the greatest tool to help calm the K-9 or help with treatment. We speak different languages with our dogs, and they are trained to listen to us and take commands from us. We will know the language and speak to them so they understand.”
In December, Cummings School hosted one of the first statewide sessions to train the Nero’s Law trainers, which Beaulieu attended with Gino. It was run by Sean Majoy, V06, VG13, adjunct assistant professor and emergency/critical care specialist at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps who provided this type of training to combat medics and handlers in Afghanistan in 2020-2021; and David Schwarz, adjunct lecturer at Cummings School and president of the State of Massachusetts Animal Resource Team (SMART). Beaulieu and Gino have since gone to several training events to assist veterinarians with the Nero’s Law training and have more lined up.
“By nature of their breed, Belgian Malinois are high energy and high drive dogs. I'm lucky with Gino, he's more on the mild side. He's very good about letting people touch him as long as I'm next to him,” Beaulieu said.
There are 300 police K-9s in Massachusetts, and each one can cost up to $30,000 in taxpayer funds to raise and train, according to State Rep. Xiarhos, who attended the Jan. 31 event. K-9s work alongside police officers, in prisons, and as comfort animals, he said. Their extensive and specialized training enables them to perform a variety of roles that assist law enforcement, including tracking suspects, detecting drugs or explosives, and search and rescue. Some police K-9s have only one job, such as drug detection. Others, like Gino, are trained for multiple tasks.
“I'm with Gino 24/7. He's with me at work and at home, and he's my partner in every sense of the word,” said Beaulieu. “Nero’s Law gives us handlers peace of mind to know that when we go out on assignments, our K-9 partners are going to get the same treatment, respect, and transport that a police officer would get if they were hurt in the line of duty."