Heavy metals absent in dead Balto. County police dog

Report says German shepherd had collapsed lung

he was the fifth animal at canine center to die this year


Tests have determined that a Baltimore County police dog died of a collapsed lung and had no abnormal levels of heavy metals in its blood -- easing worries that the death was linked to the canine unit's temporarily closed facility, county officials said yesterday.

Harley, an 8-year-old German shepherd, was the fifth animal at the facility to have died this year. Four other dogs that the Baltimore County police union said had cancer or showed signs of tumors have been euthanized.

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 a former landfill. The deaths of the first two dogs and health complaints from officers prompted police to close the center in September and arrange for environmental tests. The county expects test results next month.

County officials doubt there is a link between the canine center, which was in use for about two years, and the dogs' deaths.

The county paid for a necropsy on Harley, who died Dec. 2. The test determined that the likely cause of death was "physiological" -- a collapsed lung that "does not appear to have been caused by an infectious disease," according to a Maryland Department of Agriculture report. The report, released by the department's animal health laboratory in College Park, said the cause of the collapsed lung is unknown.

The county released the report yesterday along with results of examinations of two living police dogs that spent significant time at the canine center. Tests showed no significant levels of heavy metals in their blood, according to a report by the University of Pennsylvania, which performed the examinations.

"I think we can relax a little bit," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman. "This was everyone's concern, that there were heavy metals in the blood of these dogs. But they haven't found any of these heavy metals."

Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police, said he was pleased that no serious problems were found in the living dogs, but he found the report on Harley inconclusive.

"I don't see this autopsy, from the way the report has been described to me, as being conclusive one way or the other," Weston said. "The bottom line is, is that environment a safe environment? And the soil tests are going to tell us that."

The necropsy report on Harley noted that the laboratory could not perform tests on "benzene residues" -- substances mentioned in a county environmental supervisor's December 2001 memo to environmental chief David A.C. Carroll raising concerns about the park. But a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture pointed out that the animal was tested for other heavy metals.

The union is paying for necropsies on two police dogs that died this month. Enno, a 9-year-old German shepherd, was retired in March and euthanized Dec. 12 after it was found to have a brain tumor. Geko, an 8-year-old German shepherd, was euthanized Dec. 22 after it showed signs of internal bleeding, Weston said.


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