Health concerns prompt closing of Balto. Co. police dog center

Dogs, officers will relocate until tests are conducted

September 10, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore County police dogs have died of cancer, and officers who handle the animals have complained of health problems - prompting the department to close its canine facility until environmental tests are done.

The decision to close the facility, in a park built on top of a former landfill, came yesterday, the same day that police union officials sent a letter to Chief Terrence B. Sheridan asking that its members and the dogs be relocated. Thirty-one employees at the police dog center, including 27 officers, have filed injury reports with the department, some complaining of headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems.

The injury reports are "clearly a statement, to say, `We don't feel safe,' " said Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police.

Police spokesman Bill Toohey said yesterday: "Right now, the effort is to get people off of there and dogs off of there."

Since February, two police dogs have died and a third has been diagnosed with brain cancer, police officials said. The cancer cases come two years after the department moved the center to Southwest Area Park in the Baltimore Highlands area. Before the move, the unit, created in 1961, had lost one dog to cancer.

Supervisors in the unit raised concerns this week about the park with a county environmental official, Weston said. The county has hired a firm to test the soil for contaminants, David A.C. Carroll, director of the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, said yesterday. Test results will take three weeks.

The park will remain open to the public, Carroll said.

He added that linking the cancer cases with the park "is an unverified and, in my opinion, unprofessional leap of faith. But what you always want to do is err on the side of precaution."

When the police dog unit moved to the facility in March 2003, tests concluded that soil and ground water met environmental standards, Carroll said.

In February, Jeb, one of the unit's three bloodhounds, died of cancer. A month later a German shepherd named Enno was diagnosed with brain cancer. The dog has since retired. And in July, a black Lab named Leon died of cancer.

The police dog unit will work out of other department facilities in the county until the environmental tests are done, Toohey said.

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