Fifth Balto. County police dog dies

December 24, 2005|By JOSH MITCHELL | JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore County police union says it will pay for a necropsy for a retired police dog that was euthanized this week - the fifth animal that was stationed at the canine unit's now-closed facility and died this year.

The 8-year-old German shepherd, named Geko, was euthanized Thursday after a veterinarian found signs of internal bleeding and determined the dog was suffering from a stomach tumor, said Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police.

Three other dogs that have died since February were found to have cancer, Weston said. The body of a fifth dog, which died Dec. 2, has been sent to the University of Maryland for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

All five dogs had been stationed at the department's canine center in Southwest Area Park in the Baltimore Highlands area. The park was built on top of a former landfill. Police, prompted by the first two dog deaths and health complaints from officers, closed the canine center in September until environmental tests could be done.

The county expects test results in mid-January.

"I can't emphasize enough: Losing five dogs in a 10-month period from a unit that just has over 30 dogs, I'm absolutely very concerned about what's going on with that site," Weston said. "This is just unprecedented."

But county officials have said they doubt there is a link between the site, which was in use for about two years, and the dogs' deaths.

"There are a lot of assumptions being made, and the assumptions are countered by what we know about the site," said David A.C. Carroll, the county's top environmental official.

In a December 2001 memo to Carroll, a county supervisor pointed out "elevated levels of Benzene and Benzene derivatives in the groundwater samples" at the park, and asked whether "some form of surface remediation be attempted to minimize any contact that the dogs might have with existing soil." Carroll said subsequent environmental tests showed the park posed no "undue risk" to humans or dogs.

The latest dog to die, Geko, was retired from the department's canine unit in December 2004 because of hip problems, Weston said. The county gave the retired dog to the handler, as it typically does. The dog recently showed signs of internal bleeding and a veterinarian determined it had a stomach tumor, Weston said.

"It's devastating to him to have to put the dog down," Weston said of Geko's handler, whom he declined to identify. "The family is really struggling."

The union is paying for necropsies of Geko and a 9-year-old German shepherd that was euthanized Dec. 12. That dog, Enno, was retired in March after it was found to have a brain tumor, Weston said, but the union wants to confirm the cause of death.

The county is awaiting the results of a necropsy on an 8-year-old German shepherd named Harley, which died Dec. 2. The dog's body was sent to the University of Maryland.

Veterinarians told the union that the necropsy results might end up being compromised because Harley's body was frozen over a weekend.

Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman, said the refrigerator in which Harley's body was stored had a "mechanical malfunction" that caused items inside to freeze. "But we're told that should not in any way compromise the results."

The county has also sent two dogs that spent considerable time at the canine center to the University of Pennsylvania for physicals.

"There's all sorts of unknowns at the moment on this," said Bill Toohey, a Baltimore County police spokesman. "We're just waiting for when we get medical tests on the animals and scientific results on the facility before we can say anything meaningful about it."

About 30 employees of the canine unit have filed injury reports with the department, some complaining of headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems. Weston said officers were tested at a county-contracted health clinic this fall. But the officers could not interpret the results because they came in the form of "raw numbers," Weston said.

A county spokesman said this month that a Police Department colonel has asked the health clinic physicians to translate the blood test results in a "more user-friendly format."

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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