New tech helps keep K-9s cool

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When the two K-9 officers for the Warwick Police Department – Slovakian German Shepherds Fox and Viking – aren’t taking a bite out of crime alongside their human police professionals, they’re usually waiting in the car eagerly for their companions to come back so they can drive to the next crime scene.

This can pose a dangerous problem for canine cops, as the temperatures in vehicles on summer days can reach deadly levels incredibly quickly. Especially now that Warwick K-9 units ride in all-black Ford Explorers, the temperatures can shoot upwards even faster in direct sunlight.

Now, thanks to donations from local residents and businesses during a fundraiser last October at The Trap in Potowomut, both Warwick K-9 units have a state-of-the-art alert system, AceWatchDog, accessible through a phone app, which will ensure the officers know for sure that their puppy partners are staying cool.

“It’s, as far as I'm concerned, a life saver and a game changer for us and our dogs,” said K-9 officer Aaron Steere, who works alongside Viking.

Before, when the K-9 officers rode around in classic Crown Victorias, the department did have a failsafe for protecting their four-legged friends. A “Hot Dog” sensor would detect if the car was getting too hot and automatically roll down the windows, blast the car fans and sound an alarm so the officer knew they had to intervene and get the dog’s temperature down.

However if the officers were away from the vehicle and unable hear the alarm, or they were gone for an extended period of time, or the car’s battery malfunctions and the fans shut off, it could potentially pose a deadly scenario for the dogs – that are unable to get out of the windows due to the aluminum cage enclosure that keeps them secure inside the police vehicle.

“Before it was kind of like the tree that went down in the forest with no one around to hear it,” said Steere, who recalled one day when he had to respond to a crash on the highway during a 90-degree day. Had a state trooper not been around to tell Steere his alarm was going off, he figured Viking could have perished.

With the new system, even if no one is around to warn the officer in person, they will receive a text message alerting them that the car has reached a temperature threshold of their choosing. In addition, multiple police stations around the city will receive a call with a pre-recorded message that the dog is in danger. Essentially, the new system makes it so there is always somebody around the forest to hear the tree fall.

The new system also adds a layer of modern tech. It is accessible through an app on the officers’ phones, which indicates the temperature of the car, whether or not the engine is running, the charge of the car’s battery and the cell phone signal strength. The “brain” of the operation is the HOT-N-POP PRO. The safeguard systems are manufactured by Radiotronics Inc.

In total, the cost of the new protective technology for the K-9 units was about $4,000. The Warwick police and the community raised the money entirely on their own, adding no burden to taxpayers. Steere thanked Coastway Community Bank for donating $2,000, TJ Martucci, owner of The Trap and Nettie Cooley for their help in raising the funds.

Steere said the effort to fundraise without going to the city for bonding compounds savings for the city, which has also benefited from $1 million in seized cash going back into the local economy as the direct result of Viking and Fox’s police work. In total, the two dogs have busted an equivalent of $10 million in illicit narcotics, and serve as irreplaceable liaisons for the police to the community. The dogs have made countless public appearances and demonstrations since joining the force in 2012.

As K-9 officer Paul Wells said, “These dogs are the best [public relations] for the entire department.”

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