Smart phone app aims to protect K-9's from hot patrol cars

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - It's an alarming statistic: every year, 12-15 police K-9s across the country die from heat exposure.

The problem usually happens when the engines and air conditioning go out on patrol vehicles, and the K-9 is trapped inside.

All 20 Alameda County Sheriff’s K-9 patrol units already have heat alarms, but the department is trying to improve the system they already have with cell phone technology, especially after a close call last year.

Chuna, is a two-year-old German Shepherd and drug-sniffing K-9 for Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. The kennel in the back seat of a patrol car - is her office on wheels.

“It's very important in that environment, they're safe,” said Sgt. Ray Kelly, who oversees the K-9 program at the Sheriff’s office.

During her handler's 12-hour shift, Chuna and other police K-9s spend the majority of their time in their car. Even when vehicles are regularly maintained, engines and air-conditioners can sometimes fail.

Alameda County Sheriffs have had heat alarms in their patrol cars for the past 10 years. If the engine dies and the air conditioning goes out, an alarm will go off, audible to anyone nearby the patrol car.

An electronic sensor mounted on the dashboard of the vehicle will send an alert by pager to the officer. But last year, that system failed.

“On that particular case, the officer was in a hospital, multiple floors up, and the signal strength wasn't strong enough to reach him,” Kelly said.

Luckily, it happened at night and the K-9 wasn't harmed, but Kelly said it was a wakeup call.

The agency is now part of a pilot program for a smart phone app. The Ace Watchdog System will send an alert to the officer’s cell phone when their patrol car engine dies with their K-9 inside. The signal can reach wherever there is cell phone access.

“It tells me the car is currently running, tells me the signal strength of the unit,” Kelly said. “Before, all we had was a pager that just vibrated that told us. This has come a long way.”

The system to connect to the app costs about $700 per patrol car. The goal is to pay for them using private donations.

Cover your K-9 is having a fundraiser with pet express stores this weekend. The money raised will go towards K-9 safety improvements and programs, like the heat alarm systems, not just in Alameda County, but across the state.