Utah now has a Life Flight service to help K-9s injured in line of duty

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A police K-9 sits at a news conference announcing Intermountain Life Flight’s operational K-9 service on Feb. 20, 2024. (KTVX)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah is now one of a handful of places where medical helicopter services are available for police K-9s and other working dogs injured in the line of duty.

Intermountain Life Flight announced Tuesday its operational K-9 transport service, which will be available across Utah, connecting handlers and their K-9 partners to emergency veterinary hospitals.

“Intermountain Life Flight is only the third air medical critical care transfer service in the nation to provide this type of service,” said Tammy Blake, the director of critical operations for the Life Flight program, at a news conference.

According to Intermountain officials, the program was developed over the last year, inspired by other services that offered K-9 transports.

Those behind the idea worked with the West Jordan Police Department and other groups to build the program, which currently involves three critical veterinary care hospitals.

Dr. Laura McLain, a veterinarian who helped develop the program, said these veterinary hospitals are analogous to a level 1 trauma facility for humans. These hospitals are staffed around the clock with specialists and are equipped with ventilators and blood for transfusions.

Dr. Laura McLain, a veterinarian who helped develop Intermountain Life Flight’s operational K-9 program, speaks at a news conference on Feb. 20, 2024. She said that a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 times more sensitive than a human’s.

“This program will be a tremendous resource for working K-9 handlers and agencies across the state,” McLain said, at the news conference. “These dogs are highly-trained, valuable members of the team and deserve the same access to excellent emergency medical care as human first responders receive.”

McLain said that working dogs — from police K-9s trained to apprehend suspects to rescue dogs who can find skiers buried in an avalanche — all require hundreds of hours of training with their handlers.

“It’s not just a human and their pet, it’s a true partnership,” she said. “The dog and the human have a very tight relationship and can anticipate each other’s needs.”

Under the program, if a working dog is critically ill or wounded, the handler or agency can contact Intermountain Life Flight, which will bring the dog and handler on a medical helicopter, and transport them to one of the three designated hospitals. 

Life Flight officials said they are working to bring more veterinary hospitals into the program.

A search and rescue dog is seen at the press conference announcing Intermountain Life Flight’s operational K-9 program on Feb. 20, 2024.

Sgt. Kendall Holt, of West Jordan police, said at the news conference that the new program hits home for the department. Two years ago, the department’s K-9 officer Maya was shot and killed while trying to apprehend a suspect.

“It obviously left a huge hole in our hearts,” Holt said. “Not only was K-9 Maya part of our police department, she was part of our family and the community.”

Holt said that helping to develop this program is one way the department is working to improve the lives of K-9s and their handlers.

Intermountain Health officials said next week 80 of its staff will be trained into the new program. Later, 70 more paramedics could also be trained on how to handle K-9 patients during a flight.

Source: ABC4

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