A Porterville police dog died June 20 in the back of a department vehicle, the department said this week. The engine had been running with the air conditioner on, but the engine stopped for unknown reasons.
Police Capt. Jake Castellow said the dog, a male named Idol, was put into the vehicle to cool off after a training session with his handler, officer Oscar Vargas, at Vargas’ residence. The temperature outside was over 90 degrees.
Porterville police equip their K-9s with warning systems that alert handlers when temperatures are too high for the dogs. The system did not activate, Castellow said.
Vargas returned to the car about an hour and a half after he had placed Idol in the car and found the animal dead.
Castellow said it’s common practice for officers to take their dogs home and either keep them in the back of the air-conditioned car or in an outside, shaded and covered kennel. He said Vargas opted to keep Idol in the car to cool off faster.
Idol was about three and a half years old. The dog had worked with Porterville police for two years.
The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office was asked to review the case. Investigators found that a cable to Idol’s heat-warning system was disconnected, but more testing showed the system was faulty and would not have activated even if the cable was connected. The system is six years old.
Castellow said Porterville has ordered new warning systems for its remaining police dogs.
The investigation did not determine why the car shut down.
Castellow said it is common practice for handlers to place their dogs in a vehicle to cool off and protect them from extreme temperatures.
Castellow said Vargas was on standby Wednesday – available to respond to a call at any moment. Vargas is not expected to face charges.
Castellow, who worked as a police dog handler for several years, said losing a dog is a hard thing to deal with.