Police dog (K9 and Photography via Shutterstock)

Connecticut lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow EMS personnel to provide first aid to rescue or police dogs and use ambulances to transport them to medical facilities when they are hurt in the line of duty.

The bill, which advanced out of the Appropriations Committee on a divided vote Monday, tasks the Public Health Department with enacting regulations on training EMS workers to offer life-saving treatment to injured service dogs. The bill also allows them to transport the animals to a veterinary provider via ambulance so long as the trip would not prevent responders from treating humans who need medical attention.

The proposal comes with harsher penalties for hurting or, in some cases, annoying police dogs. It would make intentionally hurting the animals a Class C felony, a more severe crime than Class D, which is how it is currently classified. The change would raise the maximum penalty from five to 10 years in prison. Meanwhile, harassing or teasing a police dog that is confined in a vehicle would become a misdemeanor carrying up to 30 days in prison under the bill.

The proposal comes with the unanimous endorsement of the Public Safety and Security Committee, which voted the bill out in March. 

Last year, lawmakers in Massachusetts passed a similar law allowing the emergency transport of injured service animals. The law was named for Nero, a Yarmouth police dog that was shot in an incident during which his handler, Sgt. Sean Gannon, was killed. 

In February, Gannon’s mother, Denise, testified before the Public Safety Committee, telling Connecticut lawmakers that her son’s colleagues were distressed when EMS personnel were unable to transport Nero to receive medical attention. She said police dogs were like family members to the officers they serve with. 

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

“Which one of you would have a family member, in an ambush attack, bleeding out and not call an ambulance for services to save their lives?” she asked. “No one would do that and K9s deserve nothing less.”

Despite his wound, Nero survived the incident. Other police officers were able to transport him to receive medical attention and the dog has since retired from police service, according to the Boston Herald, 

Rep. Greg Howard, a Stonington Republican and police officer, told Gannon her testimony hit close to home. Howard said he was the first canine handler in the Stonington Police Department and developed a strong connection to the dog assigned to him

“You’re exactly right of what the dogs mean to all of us. My partner helped raise my boys and I miss him every day,” Howard said. “They are a great service and we owe them, to protect them.” 

The proposal raised concerns with Public Health Commissioner Manisha Juthani, whose agency would oversee the proposed regulations. In written testimony, she recognized the important work done by police dogs, however Juthani said EMS providers may be bitten if they are required to administer treatment to an injured animal and ambulances do not currently carry equipment necessary to restrain or provide treatment to dogs. 

Meanwhile, Juthani said it would be a large and costly undertaking to train Connecticut’s roughly 22,000 EMS providers to treat animals. 

“Emergencies involving police dogs are relatively rare, with only 2 such transports being recorded in Massachusetts in 2022,” Juthani said. “It would be much more efficient and practical for a police department to contract with a veterinarian to be ‘on call,’ rather than cross-train all EMS providers.”

Others have opposed the bill’s provisions raising penalties for injuring police dogs. Jess Zaccagnino, policy counsel for the ACLU of Connecticut, said the proposal’s lengthier prison sentences would result in more incarceration but would not serve as a deterrent. 

“While no one wants to see any animal injured or killed at the hands of a human, doubling the potential penalty for this category of offense is not the answer,” Zaccagnino wrote. “Mass incarceration over the past four decades has been driven in large part by increasing the lengths of prison sentences.”