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Professional handlers are put to the test with 'real life' emergencies

While a sheriff's deputy starts an IV on an "injured" dog, a MacDill staff sergeant uses an 18-gauge needle to relieve another dog's serious stomach condition, known as bloat. Luckily, time is not critical for these K-9's. These emergencies have been staged. It's all part of a program to teach working dog handlers how to respond to a real life K-9 crisis, in the line of duty. After all, many of these dogs have dangerous jobs, and with danger often comes injury.

Two dozen officers, firefighters, medics, and search and rescue professionals, from across the Bay Area, gathered at Florida Veterinary Specialists April 16 and 17 in Tampa for "K-9 Down."

Units taking part in K-9 Down included personnel from MacDill, the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office, Pinellas County Sheriffs Office, Hernando County Sheriffs Office, Florida Task Force 4 (Search and Rescue), Temple Terrace Police Department, Orlando Fire Department and St. Pete Beach Fire Dept.

They received hands-on training on various emergency situations from determining vital signs and oxygen administration, to transport techniques and placement of intravenous catheters. The lectures and labs were taught by board certified veterinary specialists from the University of Florida Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and Florida Veterinary Specialists.

"It's the first time I had ever started an IV on anything," said Deputy Don Metcalf of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "Book learning is great, but being able to have a dog there to perform an IV on, is a great value to me. The veterinarians were very knowledgeable. They gave real life experiences of things they actually see come into the emergency room."

The "K-9 Down" program was the first of its kind for the area and the material was quite advanced.

"The things we learned were well above and beyond the basic first aid we learn in K-9 school," said Deputy Metcalf.

"Even though the veterinarians were highly educated, they put it into a perspective that I could understand," added MPO Kurt Middleton of the Tampa Police Department. He and other participants now feel secure that they could assist in stabilizing a K-9 whenever necessary.

Staff Sergeant Michael Hendricks, 6th Security Forces Squadron, is also confident in his new ability.

"When deployed, we might only have access to a human medic," he said. "So this training can help us guide a medic to save the dog."

Sergeant Hendricks, MPO Middleton and others plan to share the information they learned, with fellow handlers in their departments.

"K-9 Down" was made possible by Florida Veterinary Specialists Charitable Foundation. The foundation is designed to work hand-in-hand with the clinical hospital to support research, education and indigent care.

"It is our hope that with continued funding of the FVS charitable foundation, we can provide this course and other valuable resources to the community," said Dr. Rita Hanel, course organizer. (Courtesy of Fetching Communications)

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