Officials call for new training after search dog is exposed to suspected meth

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind – Officials with Indiana Task Force One are hoping emergency departments around the state will take note of a recent case involving a search and recovery dog that was exposed to suspected methamphetamine on the job.

K-9 Search Specialist Janalee Gallagher believes her partner “Blitz” was exposed to the narcotic during the search for a missing fisherman at Little Eagle Creek last month. She says Blitz was searching along the bank of the Little Eagle Creek when he suddenly started acting strangely.

“He started exhibiting very paranoid behavior, started circling to the left in a counter-clockwise direction, his head hung low,” Gallagher said. “We don’t know what source of exposure it was, whether it was an ingestion, inhalation, and injection, we’re not sure.”

After several days of testing and process of elimination, Gallagher and Blitz’s Vet concluded the dog had been exposed to methamphetamine during the search and recovery operation. About a month later, Blitz is doing fine.  But Gallagher and Friends of Indiana Disaster Search Dogs are still trying to raise more than $5,000 to cover veterinarian bills by way of a GoFundMe Page.

“So many insurances these days, pet insurances, do not cover working dogs,” Gallagher said. “They do not cover line of duty injuries.”

Wayne Township Fire Department Captain Mike Pruitt says emergency departments around the state that use K-9 units should take Blitz’s case to heart.  While police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers are keenly aware of the risk of being exposed to dangerous narcotics, Blitz’s case was new territory.

“It was one of those things that was like an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Pruitt said.  “Why didn’t we ever think of this happening to one of our search K9s?”

“Now we’re having to rethink the use of these dogs and making sure that we can, in some way, find the best protection for them,” Pruitt said.

While naloxone kits carried by many emergency department can work for dogs as well as humans, they’re only effective in the case of an opioid exposure.  Blitz’s exposure to suspected amphetamine is a different situation. Pruitt hopes the case will raise awareness among K-9 handlers.

“If I start getting this weird behavior out of my K9 after I’ve been working an incident, this is something I’ve got to start thinking about,” Pruitt said. “Did they just get exposed to a narcotic?”

Indiana Task Force One Program Manager, Tom Neal, hopes the case will spark a whole new training program for departments around the state and country.

“I think this would be a great opportunity for not only our task force, but some of the vets within the FEMA USAR system to develop an education program,” Neal said.

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