BILLINGS - After two incidents nationwide of police dogs dying in hot cars in recent weeks, Billings police officers are talking about the protocols and technology they're using to keep K9s safe in extreme heat.
Billings patrol cars that carry police dogs are outfitted with specialized technology in the event the car loses power and the air conditioning stops working.
To showcase how it works, Officer Caleb Schultz took MTN News along for a recent ride with his German Shepherd, Chevy.
“I keep a pretty close eye on him,” said Schultz.
Billings recently tipped the heat scales with several days of upper 90-degree temperatures, nearly reaching 100 degrees.
When many are settling into the air conditioning at home, Schultz is still suiting up and heading to work to help protect the streets of Billings.
Along with him, is his trusty partner Chevy. And he admits when the extreme heat or cold sets in, there’s an added degree of challenge of keeping Chevy safe.
“It’s kind of stressful,” he said.
If he’s called to work a case, Chevy's health in the car is right in his view.
“Worrying about him all the time, he’s high maintenance for sure,” he laughs.
Incidents of police dog deaths have been making news headlines during the month of June, with one case in Houston and another recently in Georgia.
It's why many police cars that carry K9s come standard with a variety of safety features, including heat sensors all over the car.
“So, the divider between me and the kennel, there’s a heat sensor there,” said Schultz. “There’s one in the back too.”
All those are connected to a monitor delivering real-time temperatures to Schultz.
“I just keep an eye on it,” he said.
Beyond the necessary heat sensors, there’s more technology his patrol comes equipped with, including the vehicle going into lifesaving mode.
“In the event that the AC malfunctions in there or something happens, once it reaches a certain temperature it starts setting off an alarm,” said Schultz.
The alarm sends his lights and sirens blasting to trigger the nearby K9 handler of the increasing heat in the car.
“And then it rolls his window down if it’s not down already and it turns the fan on and starts blowing air into the kennel there,” he said.
Safety protocols inside the car aren’t the only mechanism in place protecting Chevy. Schultz is tapped into his police dog’s behavior in the extreme heat and knows when it's quitting time on a case out in the elements.
Schultz is also thinking about the ground surface and Chevy’s limit when running after suspects or chasing down drugs.
“You know, we have shoes on. He doesn’t,” he said.
It's why Chevy sometimes will be placed in dog booties to protect his paws against blacktop burns, or frostbite during the winter ice and snow.
Schultz knows that sometimes he must place Chevy’s health and well-being above the job. It’s a practice he would do for any fellow officer.
“Last summer, we were called to track a guy down by the river and it was in the 90s by the time we got there. He was already gassed, he was looking for places of shade, and that’s when you know it’s time to go back to the car,” he said.
It’s just what Schultz does to keep his partner safe.