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Mississippi K9 Dies After Being Left In Malfunctioning Patrol Car

The Vicksburg Police Department in Mississippi is currently mourning the death of one of their own.  

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Thor, an 8-year-old German shepherd K9 officer, passed away from heat-related conditions after being left in his handler’s patrol car for less than thirty minutes. According to reports, Officer Donny Heggins’ patrol car malfunctioned, leaving Thor trapped in the vehicle with no air conditioning. While the K9 was rushed to a veterinary clinic upon discovery, he ultimately succumbed to heart-related injuries.

Chief Milton Moore learned of the situation when he heard a frantic call from Heggins over the police scanner saying Thor was in distress. In an interview with the Vicksburg Post, Moore stated: “We know that Officer Heggins immediately began rendering aid, and then we quickly transported Thor to the veterinary clinic.”

Unfortunately, it was already too late.

Thor had been serving the Vicksburg community since 2012.

Trained in assisting in drug cases, the K9 was credited with more than 60 felony arrests and apprehensions.

“[He] has been very, very effective for the department in fighting the influx of drugs in our city,” said Moore.

Heggins, Thor’s handler, is also grieving the death, and Moore extended his sympathies to the officer and his family.

“We are also praying for the Heggins family,” he stated.

“[Thor] was a part of their family. It was shocking to know how hurt they are by this loss.”

According to Moore, it is a regular procedure to leave K9 officers in patrol vehicles for hours with the motor and air conditioning running. The Department has already ruled the death an accident, and it’s unlikely any charges will be filed.

Still, incidents such as this one beg the question as to whether these procedures should be changed.

Thor is not the only K9 to recently pass away from heat-related conditions. Last month, a similar tragedy occurred in Long Beach, California, when a 6-year-old K9 named Ozzy was found dead in his handler’s patrol car on August 14th. Vets determined the Belgian Malinois-German shepherd mix’s death was also a result of being left in the patrol car when the air conditioning spontaneously malfunctioned.

The Long Beach Police Department eventually launched an internal affairs investigation to obtain additional facts. However, they did not provide details on the nature of the investigation or what had prompted it.

Sadly, these cases are far more common than you’d think.

According to an investigative report by the Green Bay Gazette, between 2011 and 2015, forty-six K9 officers across the United States died from heat while being locked in patrol cars.

The report additionally stated: “At least 18 more dogs died of heatstroke after being pushed too hard during training exercises, while tied outside in direct sunlight or other reasons.”

Veteran handlers and advocates believe these deaths are preventable and that departments are placing too much reliance on technology to keep their K9 officers safe. Retired handler Russ Hess believes officers should be held to a higher standard to protect their K9 partners:

“We’re only humans, and humans make mistakes … but the responsibility stays with the officer to check on his dog just as if it were his child.”

Scott Heiser, director of the criminal justice program for the Animal Legal Defense Funds in California, confirmed this stance, stating: “To our way of looking at things, an officer who allows a dog to die of heat exhaustion is as neglectful as leaving a service revolver on a school playground.”

As mentioned, Thor’s death has been deemed accidental and is currently not being investigated.

However, the Department remains steadfast in their respect for their former partner, saying:

“He was one of us. He might have been an animal, but he was an officer.”

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