Vito the Police Dog Died Because His Handler Left Him in a Locked Car

The temperature in Detroit on June 28 only reached a high of 78 degrees, but it was hot enough to lead to the death of Vito a police German shepherd. Vito's handler had left him in his patrol car with the air conditioner running while he went to pick up another car. But while he was out, the motor turned off and Vito began to overheat in the cab.

By the time the officer returned, Vito already showed signs of heatstroke. He was rushed to the vet but unfortunately, he died from cardiac arrest the next day.

Detroit Police K9 patrol cars are equipped with an emergency heat alert system. When officers leave their dogs in the car with the air on, the backup heat alert system is supposed to roll down the windows if the car's motor turns off while running the AC. This did not happen. Tragically, in Vito's case the heat alert system failed and he was left to die.

Detroit Police Department (DPD) says they are looking into the incident and that the officer, who is heartbroken, has been stripped of his dog handling duties. Officials believe both the emergency heat system and the officer are at fault. That's because as an ultimate fail-safe, DPD requires their K9 officers to check on their dogs every 30 minutes — "no matter what." Unfortunately, Vito's handler didn't do that, he arrived 10 minutes late and by that time Vito was too far gone.

Even with two fail-safes, Vito was doomed, and it isn't just the Vito's handler's fault. According to RSPCA of Australia, a dog in a locked car can die in "just six minutes." Even when it's cool outside —like on the day Vito was locked in his car — a locked car with a dog inside can quickly turn into a hot box, where the temperature can spike up to 100 degrees in minutes. In that kind of heat, dogs can suffer. Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes.

So if that's the case, then DPD's "mandatory" every-30-minute check-in would still leave most dogs in danger if the emergency heat backup failed like it did for Vito.

It is unrealistic to think that K9 officers can check on their dog every 6 minutes to ensure it is OK. But giving officers an arbitrary 30-minute window puts dogs like Vito in danger. That's why Care2 believes DPD's K9 unit needs to update their policy to prohibit their officers from leaving their dogs in unattended patrol cars.

If you agree that no dog should be left to suffer in the burning heat only to meet a terrible death, please sign the petition.

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