Dogs in danger: Police working to protect K9s put at risk by deadly drugs

After a K-9 officer in Florida overdosed on the lethal opioid, Georgia K-9 handlers are looking for ways to keep them safe.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The opioid fentanyl crisis is hurting some police officers whose job it is to protect us. Some law enforcement officers are now carrying medicine to reverse the effects of an overdose, but it’s not necessarily for humans.

In recent years, officers have started carrying Narcan because some dogs searching for drugs have encountered fentanyl and almost died.

“It was pretty scary for them,” said Detective Andrew Weiman with the Broward County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office.

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A Close Call

He has trained the office’s K-9 teams for 30 years. Three of the office’s dogs, Primus, Finn and Packer, were searching a house for drugs in October 2016.  They found drugs, but no one suspected fentanyl was in the home until Primus started acting strange.

<p>Primus was treated with Narcan when he began to overdose on fentanyl.</p>

Primus was treated with Narcan when he began to overdose on fentanyl.

“It wasn’t playing with its toy and he was kind of just staring out of the kennel past the handler rather than watching the handler to see what he’s doing. It was as if he was looking right through him,” said Weiman.

It turned out, Primus was about to overdose on fentanyl.

“He could see his respirations were diminishing,” said Weiman.

Soon Finn and Packer started to overdose. All three ingested an incredibly small amount of the dangerous anesthetic.

"It's very dangerous. We as handlers are trained to go in and investigate the area to make sure it's as safe as possible, although you can't see eight grains of salt," Weiman told Channel 2 Action News. 

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He said the equivalent of eight grains of salt is the amount of fentanyl it takes to cause a dog to overdose.

Deputies rushed Primus to an animal hospital where he was treated with Narcan and recovered. Finn and Packer received fluids to flush the drug out of their systems and survived.

“Relieved, short answer relieved,” was how Weiman told us he felt once he knew the dogs were OK/

Local Departments train to protect K9s

Weiman’s team was one of the first in the country to have a K-9 overdose on fentanyl. Unfortunately, the dangerous situation in Broward County, Florida, isn’t unique. It’s a concern for Metro Atlanta departments as well.

“It’s heartbreaking, and things like this are going to happen when you have people and animals doing jobs that are dangerous,” said Forsyth County sheriff’s Deputy 1stClass William Sessa, who is a K-9 handler.

“When they’re searching, they don’t search like humans with their eyes and their hands. They use their nose,” said Sessa.

We got access as Sessa and K-9 officer Hummer did some training searches for drugs inside an abandoned home.

Sessa told us, so far, no K-9s in the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office have overdosed.

“If something happens to him it’s like something happened to a member of your family,” said Sessa.

As a precaution, Forsyth County deputies carry emergency kits that contain Narcan, the medication that reverses an opioid overdose.

"The Narcan can help us stabilize the dog until we can get him to the proper medical facility where the veterinarians and the doctors can hook the dogs up to the monitors," Sessa told Channel 2's Dave Huddleston.

Sessa said every day Hummer and the other K-9s put their lives on the line. He said protecting these special officers has got to be top priority in these dangerous times.

“The upmost. It’s not behind mine, it’s not less than mine, his safety is as important as mine,” said Sessa.