When summertime comes and temperatures creep toward triple digits, K9 Officer Travis Hartman knows the No. 1 thing he’ll get asked when he’s out working the city.
“Is it safe for the dog to stay in the car?”
At least five people a day approach Hartman to ask about the safety of Pako, Westminster PD’s 70-pound Dutch shepherd.
It’s a fair question given all the public service announcements that get blasted out in the news and social media warning about the dangers of leaving pets and small children in the car.
And K9s dying of heat exhaustion because they were left in police cruisers is not unheard of.
Sixty-four K9s died of heat exhaustion from January 2011 to August 2015, according to a review of records in a published report by USA Today.
Of those, 46 K9s died because they were left in hot police cruisers and 18 died of other heat-related issues while on the job.
So far this year, eight K9s have died from heat exhaustion, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks line-of-duty deaths for both officers and police dogs.
But this would not happen in Westminster, nor in many other agencies in Southern California.
“This entire cage is built for his safety,” Hartman said of the back of the patrol car where Pako sits. “Agencies in Orange County all have … technology to keep K9s safe.”
The back seat has special white panels that keep the interior cool and rubberized floors so Pako doesn’t slip around.
Hartman’s police unit also is outfitted with technology so he doesn’t have to worry about whether his partner is in danger of overheating should the officer be tied up on a call.
The cruiser is equipped with two temperature gauges, and if the inside of the car hits 85 degrees, the windows automatically roll down, an exhaust fan kicks on and the car sends out an SOS horn honk, complete with flashing lights.
The alarm also sends a call to WPD dispatch and texts Hartman alerting them that Pako is in a potentially dangerous situation.
“I test it every single week so I know it’s working,” Hartman said of the high-tech alarm system.
But there is a lot Westminster PD invests in to ensure their K9 stays safe on the job.
A bulletproof vest donated by K9 Armor is ready for when Pako must engage in dangerous situations with potentially armed subjects.
“People often ask me why Pako doesn’t wear his vest at all times, and one reason is because it’s heavy, but more importantly, it acts as an oven on a hot day,” he said. “It’s like he’s wearing a blanket.
“But if we arrive to a situation where he might need it, I put it on before letting him go.”
There also are special booties to protect Pako’s paws should he be a first responder to any kind of scenario in which officers are traversing over dangerous debris.
Hartman also trained his four-legged partner to lie down in the back seat when the officer has to go Code 3, which means sirens blaring and lights flashing.
When the siren is on, Pako drops to his belly — something the K9 got to practice earlier this month when Hartman was involved in two vehicle pursuits in the same week.
But perhaps the best tool Pako has to rely on is his partner, Hartman.
Hartman spends hours and hours working with Pako every week to ensure the K9 is prepared for the job, and spends an equal amount of time strengthening their bond.
“Just as I trust Pako to keep me safe, he trusts me to keep him safe,” Hartman said. “It’s the foundation of our partnership.”