FINDING HOPE: Protecting Idaho's drug-sniffing K-9s

Posted at 1:36 PM, Oct 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-02 15:58:57-04

When you think about the opioid epidemic, your first thought probably isn't, "How does this affect dogs?" but a Treasure Valley veterinarian is playing a major role in protecting police K-9s from the dangers of sniffing out deadly opioids.

Opioids impact animals differently than humans, and for dogs in the line of duty that poses the risk of putting their K-9 handlers in danger.

That's where Dr. Nell Dalton steps in to train first responders how to prepare for the unexpected.

"The risk is that [the K-9s] could become exposed and therefore affected, which is respiratory depression and death," Dr. Dalton said.

Dr. Dalton gives presentations to local law enforcement agencies, teaching them what signs of exposure to look out for and how to prevent cross-contamination that could put first responders in danger.

For drug-sniffing dogs, the primary risk of opioid exposure is through inhalation.

Since a K-9's tolerance for opioids is much higher than humans', the highest potential for harm comes to the handler once reunited, requiring responders at the scene to wear personal protective equipment.

"So primarily, our training is focused on how to care for the animal once they've been exposed, and how to be proactive instead of reactive," Dr. Dalton said.

Although the biggest risk of exposure comes through the nose, drugs can also be problematic on a K-9's coat or paws.

"So we want to try to prevent the K-9 from entering a situation, but that's often not feasible because that's their job, that's what they do," Dr. Dalton said.

Luckily, just like for humans exposed to high quantities of opioids, K-9s can be treated with Naloxone - the opioid overdose antidote already carried by Treasure Valley paramedics and police. And the good news is not only are they prepared to treat dogs for a potential overdose, but law enforcement in the state of Idaho has not yet needed to administer Naloxone to any operational K-9s as of yet.