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K-9 found dead in Long Beach officer's hot patrol car

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 8/24/2019 Colleen Shalby
a dog sitting on top of a car: A K-9 named Ozzy died after being left alone in a vehicle. © Long Beach Police Department A K-9 named Ozzy died after being left alone in a vehicle.

A K-9 with the Long Beach Police Department died after being left in his handler's department-issued vehicle, authorities said Friday.

The police dog, named Ozzy, and the officer were off-duty when the dog was found dead last week. The officer, whom the Police Department is not identifying, reported the dog's death and an investigation is underway.

Ozzy's handler found the 6-year-old dog dead in the vehicle at roughly 3:40 p.m. Aug. 14.

"A veterinarian examination of Ozzy and the preliminary results determined the cause of death to be heat-related," Long Beach police public information officer Arantxa Chavarria said in a statement. "Our K-9 vehicles are outfitted with fail-safe equipment that is meant to generate an alert. At this time, we believe this alert may not have been working."

Chavarria said the equipment includes a heat-controller system that uses a cellphone app to signal when the vehicle is getting too warm. Another mechanism provides a "manual button that only shuts down the system when activated by the handler," she said.

Chavarria did not say whether it was standard practice for a K-9 to be left alone in this type of vehicle. Since Ozzy's death, all K-9 handlers have been checking their vehicle's heat system controllers before every shift, she said.

Midafternoon temperatures in Long Beach the day the dog died were between 81 and 84 degrees, according to a weather archive.

It was not immediately clear whether the dog was in Long Beach at the time of death or how long he had been left unattended.

It takes only 15 minutes for a hot animal to suffer brain damage, as animal rights advocates remind the public every summer. In California, it is illegal to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle when conditions may endanger its health and well-being. Circumstances include heat and cold as well as a lack of adequate ventilation, food or water. A dog left in a car with its windows cracked on a hot, non-breezy day does not always suffice as adequate.

It is also legal for California residents to break into a vehicle to save an animal they think has been left unattended and is suffering. That law went into effect in 2017.

In October, the Signal Tribune wrote about Ozzy, one of two dogs who worked in the Long Beach Police Department's Drug Investigations Section.

Ozzy, half Belgian Malinois and half German shepherd, had worked as a K-9 for more than five years. In that time, he had assisted several agencies including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"We ask that you respect the handler and his family," Chavarria said. "Our department is mourning Ozzy's loss as we would with any of our employees. Our K-9s are an indispensable part of our department, and we will continue to view them as partners."

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