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Police K-9s can now receive Life Flight medical air transport after injury

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Feb 25, 2024

Image supplied, Intermountain Health

In this screenshot taken from video, a West Bountiful Police Department officer and his K-9 companion are pictured during a press conference promoting a new service to transport injured police dogs to specialty veterinary hospitals via Life Flight helicopters.

There are more than 100 operational public safety K-9s working throughout the state of Utah and sometimes they are injured in the line of duty.

Now, instead of transporting them by car, any dogs needing urgent care can now be taken to the nearest specialized animal hospital via Intermountain Health’s Life Flight medical helicopter. The three designated hospitals will be MedVet in Sunset, Mountain West Veterinary Specialists in Layton and MedVet in Salt Lake City.

During a press conference Tuesday, several officials spoke about the newest collaboration with veterinarians, specialized animal hospitals and public safety agencies involved in the Intermountain Health Life Flight Operations K9 Transport Program.

“Operational K-9s are essential to our public service community,” said Tammy Bleak, director of clinical operations for Intermountain Life Flight. “These animals are involved in (emergency medical services), search and rescue, law enforcement, fire rescue, (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), narcotics detection and (the Transportation Security Administration).”

Bleak said training for one of these K-9s can take four to five years and cost anywhere from $40,000 to $70,000.

“When one of these operational K-9s is injured, it is a potential loss to the community and that agency. Until now, there has been no formal process to help these animals when they need medical care,” she said.

The new program is the first of its kind in the state and the third in the nation designated to care for and transport public agency service animals in need of urgent medical or surgical care. The animal facilities will all be advanced specialty emergency veterinary hospitals, which are open 24 hours a day, have board-certified surgical and/or critical care specialist veterinarians on staff, and have advanced life-support equipment such as ventilators and banked blood for transfusions.

“This is analogous to human medicine where a severe trauma victim might be diverted to a Level I trauma hospital rather than a closer or smaller medical facility,” according to Dr. Laura McLain, veterinary medical director for the program.

McLain said there’s a risk every day for K-9s to be injured in the line of duty. She said access to immediate transport to the hospital will help their survival rate so they can heal and continue to save human lives.

“These working dogs are awesome. They save lives and serve our community. They can find a survivor buried under 6 feet of rubble, concrete and rebar in a matter of minutes,” she said. “As a veterinarian, it is an honor to care for these dogs.”

Box Elder County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Kennedy says having a medical K-9 program to provide care for his 20-month-old narcotics dog named Elvis is comforting, in the event he’s ever injured.

“He lives with me, he goes to work with me every day, he eats lunch with me. He pretty much goes everywhere with me,” Kennedy said. “Knowing that there is quality medical care available to him like there would be for you and I is a very big thing for us.”


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