Police dog's death ruled accidental

Despite rumors of foul play and anonymous e-mails alleging wrongdoing, the Delaware State Police determined last week that the death of Ocean View’s police dog, Caro, was accidental.

Caro — a 5-year-old male German shepherd — died July 21 from heat exposure, after being left in a police car outside the Ocean View police station when the car’s engine stalled, according to reports.

“It was a tragedy,” Delaware State Police spokesman Cpl. Jeff Oldham said. “[Ocean View Police said] it was an accident, but they wanted us to investigate to show that they weren’t trying to cover up anything.”

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said that anonymous e-mails received by the town, accusing the K-9 officer — McLaughlin asked that he remain unidentified — of wrongdoing, were “crazy.”

“It’s ridiculous to insinuate there was any criminal wrongdoing,” McLaughlin said. “(The officer) is really upset over this whole thing. It was an unfortunate incident.”

The K-9 officer — the only officer trained as a K-9 handler on Ocean View’s force — reportedly left Caro in the police cruiser with the air conditioning on when he went into the station to process a prisoner on the afternoon of July 21.

On the last of many periodic checks that afternoon, the officer reportedly found that the engine had stalled in the car and that Caro was lying unresponsive in the back seat. After rushing the dog to Dr. Gary Farmer’s veterinary office in Dagsboro, the 5-year-old shepherd was pronounced dead from heat exposure, McLaughlin said. (Farmer did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.) McLaughlin said that the mid-summer heat inside a closed car “only takes five minutes for heat to build up enough to kill the dog.”

McLaughlin said that he initiated an internal investigation on Monday, July 24, and called the Delaware State Police from the vet’s parking lot that Friday. Both investigations returned the same conclusion of an accident.

“I know full-well there wasn’t anything improper,” McLaughlin said. “When things are going right, dogs are safer in the car with the AC. You wouldn’t do that with a pet. But it’s not a pet. It’s a police dog.”

Oldham — a former K-9 officer with the State Police, who said that dogs and their handlers develop a “special bond,” agreed that leaving the dog in the air-conditioned car was the correct procedure.

“We did a thorough investigation,” Oldham said. “There’s not a whole lot more they can do. Even on a hot day, an AC car is more comfortable than an outside kennel.”

There is no kennel inside — or outside — the temporary Ocean View station, and drugs stored inside the station as evidence would have desensitized the narcotic dog’s searching capabilities, McLaughlin noted.

“If he gets used to those smells, it will mess him up, make him ineffective,” he added.

Since 2003, Ocean View police had used Caro to find drugs and track people. The dog could track burglars from the scene of a crime or Alzheimer’s patients who wandered from home, and he could find drugs located just about anywhere.

McLaughlin said that having a drug-dog on the force deterred drug dealers and users from hanging around or working in the Ocean View area.

“You can’t beat the dog,” McLaughlin said. “I think it did act as a deterrent. We had people tell us that it did. Word on the street among drug users was to stay out of Ocean View.”

McLaughlin said that the force does not yet have any plans to replace Caro.