Nero’s Law provides emergency services for police K9 units

Tuesday November 23, 2021

For law enforcement, legislators, and animal lovers, the passage of Nero’s Law by the state Senate earlier this month was a big step toward ensuring police dogs get the help they need if they are injured in the line of duty.

“I’m very enthused that it has passed; it’s something that we have been working on for a while,” said state Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “It’s a bill based on common sense to enable a police K9 to be treated if they are injured in the line of duty.”

The bill would allow a law enforcement dog injured in the line of duty to be transported in an ambulance if there is not a competing need for human transport. Similar laws exist in several other states, including in Maine, which allows for K9s and service dogs to be treated and transported by EMS.

The bill is named for Nero, a Yarmouth K9 injured in April, 2018 when Sgt. Sean Gannon was shot and killed in the line of duty. Nero suffered life-threatening injuries and was unable to be rescued due to an existing state law that prohibits working animals from being treated or transported by emergency personnel. Nero had to wait for nearly four hours until a retired K9 officer arrived on the scene to help Nero with his injuries and transport him to an emergency veterinary hospital.

The Massachusetts State Police relies on more than 50 dogs for patrol duties, search and rescue, and detection of narcotics, firearms, explosives, accelerants, and cadavers. They fulfill missions not just for the state police, but routinely assist local police departments across the state.

“Just as important to us as our dogs’ capabilities is how we view them – they are part of our MSP family, and also part of their Trooper-Handlers’ families at home,” said David Procopio, the media communications director for the Massachusetts State Police. “The dogs live with and are cared for by their Troopers. They are true and loyal partners to their handlers while on duty, and like anyone’s pet, they are part of the family unit at home.”

The health and safety of police dogs is paramount to their law enforcement partners, and the dogs are injured at a higher rate than the general public is aware of, according to Procopio.

“In recent years, police agencies in the state have had dogs killed or wounded by criminals who have shot, stabbed, or used blunt force against them,” he said. “Dogs are also at risk of the potentially deadly effects of fentanyl or other dangerous narcotics during drug sniffs. Like their human partners, these brave animals make sacrifices to keep the public safe and they deserve the utmost level of emergency medical care in critical incidents.” 

Procopio said the state police supports the legislation so that EMS personnel can provide basic first aid, CPR, and other life-saving interventions, including the administration of Narcan, and transport injured police dogs to veterinary hospitals.

The Essex County Sheriff Department’s K-9 unit works within the department’s detention facilities, and like the state police, provides mutual aid and assistance to local police departments.

“They are often used by area police departments to search for suspects, contraband, and missing persons and it can be dangerous work,” said Gretchen Grosky, communications director for the sheriff’s department. “If one of our K9s were ever injured in the line of duty, we would want them to get the critical, emergency care they need and deserve. Our K9s aren’t just dogs to us; they are our partners; they are our family, and that’s why we applaud and support Nero’s Law.”

The law also has the support of a number of animal advocacy groups, including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

According to MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, much of the equipment it uses, especially to stabilize things like gunshot wounds, is the same as is used on humans. The bill also includes training for EMS personnel on veterinary triage and animal handling, and removes liability for emergency personnel who try to save an animal who is injured but are unsuccessful.

Tarr said he is optimistic the bill will pass through the House and land on the governor’s desk soon.

“The governor has been a very strong proponent of the bill, and my hope and expectation is we would see this signed into law very shortly, hopefully by the end of this year,” said Tarr.

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