When Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon was fatally shot in a Marstons Mills attic in April of 2018, his K-9 partner Nero suffered a gunshot wound as well.
A bullet had gone through Nero’s cheek and lodged beneath his right shoulder, according to testimony from Dr. Kelsey McKenna, who was working at Cape Cod Veterinary Specialists in Dennis when Nero was admitted.
Despite Nero’s serious wounds, state law did not allow him to be transported in an ambulance, where he may have been able to receive emergency medical care. Instead, he rode in the back of a police cruiser on his way to treatment.
The then 2-year-old Belgian Malinois survived his wounds and is now retired from the Yarmouth Police Department.
A bill passed by the state Legislature earlier this week allows injured police dogs to get emergency medical care.
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“His (Sgt. Gannon’s) tragic murder, and the life-threatening injuries sustained by his K-9 partner Nero left the Cape and the Islands in shock and grieving,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, who spoke in favor of Nero’s Law, which allows police dogs injured while on duty to receive immediate emergency medical treatment and to be transported by an ambulance.
“I am proud to be the presenting sponsor of Nero’s Bill in the House this session, and I am very happy that the House voted to approve the bill,” State Rep. Steven Xiarhos, R-Barnstable, said in a press release.
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According to Xiarhos — who, prior to his election to the House, served as Deputy Chief of Police for the Yarmouth Police Department at the time of the incident — Nero’s Bill is desperately needed to make sure a similar tragedy does not happen again in the future .
The bill, which was passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate on Monday, was born from the tragic incident. It will now go to Gov. Charlie Baker for final approval.
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What will Nero’s Bill do?
Nero’s Law is a step in the right direction, said Dr. Tom Burns, hospital director at Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod.
“These are working animals, animals that are often times put into harm’s way, you know, instead of humans, and so it only seems fair and ethical that they would receive emergency treatment for injuries they could sustain in the roles that they have,” he said.
The new law allows not only the transport of the injured animal, but also emergency medical care such as administering oxygen, bandaging, and mouth-to-snout ventilation.
Although the EMS provider may need to administer care to a dog, as of right now the legislation does not mandate any additional training for these procedures.
“There is certainly basic, you know, first-aid care that transcends species,” said Burns.
The hospital director said that over time he thinks there will be more specific training regarding emergency care for animals. Additionally, according to the bill, an EMS provider may require a person from the police department to accompany the police dog in the ambulance, such as the injured dog’s handler.
Why are K-9s so important?
Police dogs perform many tasks for the department, including searching buildings, tracking people, and sniffing for drugs and bombs, Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson said. But they also have a more subtle ability, one that often gets overlooked.
“Their ability to break down barriers, to reach out to young and old, people of all races, to kind of start a conversation … everybody loves a dog,” he said. “They go a long way in building communications with everybody, as well as building trust with our police department.”
Frederickson said that the department owes Nero’s Law to police dogs that get into harm’s way. He also said that the bill will give the police dog’s handler peace of mind that their partner will be treated to the best of the department’s ability.
“A K-9 handler and their K-9 are one unit. They are like family … the trust, faith, and love between a K-9 officer and the K-9 is immeasurable,” Frederickson said.
Contact Asad Jung at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @asadjungcct