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Only a handful of states have laws that explicitly allow EMTs to treat injured K9s. Some Massachusetts lawmakers hope their state will be next.
First responders would be allowed to treat injured police dogs and transport them to veterinary hospitals under a bill making its way through the Massachusetts state legislature.
Under current Massachusetts law, EMTs are not permitted to treat, transport or provide emergency medical attention to police K9s, a legal quirk that made headlines last year after Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon and his canine partner Nero were shot while serving a warrant. Gannon’s injuries were fatal, but Nero’s weren’t. However, because paramedics were not authorized to treat or move him, the dog lay bleeding on the floor for three hours until help arrived.
“His original trainer was allowed to go into the house after it was secure and remove him from the attic, bring him down, treat him in the back of a police cruiser with a borrowed first aid kit, and transport him,” said state Rep. Will Crocker, the bill’s main sponsor.
Nero survived (he’s retired now, and living with Gannon’s family), but concerns lingered about the law, Crocker said.
“A number of canine handlers, vets and emergency medical technicians contacted me and said, ‘This is what happened. There’s a flaw in the law. What do we need to do to fix this?’” he said.
The legislation, dubbed Nero’s bill, offers a solution. As written, the proposal would grant EMTs the authority to “render pre-hospital emergency veterinary care” to K9s and take them to animal hospitals, as long as no humans require transport at the same time.
The law would apply only to EMTs who have been trained in veterinary protocol, which would be developed by the state’s Office of Emergency Management and the veterinary hospital at Tufts University. That training would not be mandatory, though Crocker is confident that a fair number of first responders would opt to take it.
“These are people who want to help. That’s their job,” he said. “The EMTs who were there with Nero were bound by law not to, and it was traumatic for them.”
Nero’s bill has bipartisan support and, on Thursday, was the subject of a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. First responders, including some with their police dogs, packed the committee room to voice support for the proposal. Crocker is hopeful the committee will grant it a favorable ruling, allowing the legislation to move forward.
“We need to have some sort of positive outcome from this very tragic situation,” he said. “And we think this is it.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
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