Protect K-9s from Vehicle Heat With Technology

ACEK9 aids in safeguarding police K9s left in vehicles from heat-related harm.

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The system rolls down the rear windows during a heat-related event, but the window is covered to keep the K9 contained.The system rolls down the rear windows during a heat-related event, but the window is covered to keep the K9 contained.IMAGE: AceK9The last thing any officer wants is to return to their patrol car and discover that the air-conditioning system has failed with their K9 partner inside.

A K9 handler from Cobb (Georgia) Police Department experienced this exact scenario in June 2023 when he left his dog in a vehicle while he participated in active shooter training. When he returned, he was shocked to find his K9 partner, Chase, unresponsive because the vehicle air-conditioning system had failed. Despite lifesaving efforts, his partner succumbed to heat-related injuries.

Equipping police patrol vehicles with heat-sensing technology and alarms can prevent this unfortunate situation, says Officer Joe Lutkowski, who has spent the last 18 years of his career as a K9 handler for the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department in Pennsylvania.

Lutkowski has never lost a dog to this tragedy, but he can attest to how well protective technology works. His first patrol vehicle had an AceK9 Hot-N-Pop system.

“I remember one time I was doing paperwork at the station and one of the guys came running in and said my vehicle was going crazy,” he recalls. “The system had activated because the air conditioning was blowing warm air. The system worked perfectly. But without it, things could have ended very differently.”

Cobb County has used the 2023 tragedy as a turning point and upgraded seven vehicles in its fleet with AceK9 systems. Now, should the temperature inside the vehicle get too hot, the vehicle's blue lights flash, the siren blares, windows roll down, fans turn on, and alerts are dispatched to the handler and four others.

Pick the Right Technology

John Johnston owner of AceK9, the company that developed and manufactures the K9 systems that keep K9s safe in patrol cars.

The company got its start in 1986, when Johnston received a call for help from K9 Deputy Ted Smith of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department. He told him that three K9s had died in patrol vehicles at three different departments in the state of Florida during that scorching hot summer. Smith sought technology to prevent this from happening again, and Johnston says he provided aid for this challenge without hesitation.

He identified the pressing need for a temperature-monitoring alarm system in K9-equipped patrol vehicles and developed the K9 Lifeguard, which had several features, including honking the horn, activating the blue lights, rolling down the two rear windows and a beeper worn by deputies to alert them of high interior temperature or engine failure.

The success of K9 Lifeguard sparked further innovation. Johnston recognized the need to improve officer safety and developed K9 Lifesaver, a K9 door opening system that let officers remotely release K9 partners from vehicles in emergencies.

The company next developed Hot-N-Pop in 1996, integrating the K9 Heat Alarm and K9 Door Popper into a single unit, now revered as Hot-N-Pop PRO among K9 handlers nationwide.

“The Hot-N-Pop is the best system on the market,” adds Lutkowski, who says he has had one on his vehicle for 23 years. “John is always making it better and more advanced. His sole focus is on the safety of the K9 and the handler. It’s one of the most advanced systems out there.”

Updated Product Line

Today the AceK9 product line includes:

K9 HOT-N-POP PRO, a combination K9 heat alert and remote door opening system, designed to save the dog’s life in a heat-related emergency and the hander’s life in a suspect dispute.

“Let’s say a handler leaves the dog in the car to handle a domestic dispute and then the situation turns violent,” Johnston explains. “The handler can push a button on his belt, or his chest, and the vehicle’s back door will pop open and let out the dog. We’ve saved hundreds of human lives with this system.” A good example happened a while back at a rest stop on Interstate 55 in Mississippi, he explains. The officer approached a suspicious man in a car but was attacked by two men who dragged him into the bushes with the intention to kill. “He hit the button on the door popper and the dog came to his rescue,” he says.

K9 HEAT ALARM PRO, an advanced temperature monitoring system. This system will activate a unique SOS pattern for the horn when an alarm event happens. The rear windows are designed to roll down, but there's metal bars covering the K9 contained but allows for ventilation. There is a large fan mounted in one of the windows to pull in outside air to get some ventilation into the car.

ACEWATCHDOG raises the bar for the safety of the K9 by connecting to a Hot-N-Pop PRO or K9 Heat Alarm Pro to send temperature and vehicle status to the cloud so officers can view the temperature and vehicle operational status from their smartphones.

“This system allows officers to go farther from their patrol cars,” Johnston says. “In the past, they had to be within hearing range of their vehicle. They also get notified by text when there is a warning. There is also a full alarm that goes out if the dog is potentially in real trouble. Then the handler gets a call and a text, and several other people also receive alarms, such as dispatchers or supervisors or other handlers on the same shift, so that someone can get back to that dog and take care of them.”

These products can be used on all police K9 vehicles in use today, adds Johnston. “Everything from the Ford Explorers to the Chevy Tahoe’s can use this product,” he says. “It’s useful for police cars that have a container to carry a K9 inside. We have vehicle-specific wiring for those cars.”

Johnston acknowledges the existence of other heat-sensing systems on the market and recommends selecting a system from a company that offers reliable support throughout the product's lifespan. All Ace systems have QR codes on them that, when scanned, take the officer to instruction manuals and YouTube videos that cover operational and installation, he adds.

Johnston says he is constantly innovating and creating new technology to ensure the safety of police officers and their K9 partners. In fact, he’s recently developed a system to help prevent officers from leaving their dogs in the vehicle after a long shift.

“When they turn the car off, they will receive a reminder not to forget the dog in the back of the car,” he says. “This will ensure no K9 gets left behind. We’ve have more advanced things in the works, stay tuned.”

Installing the System

Selecting the right system isn’t enough if the system is not installed correctly, adds Johnston. He advises choosing a competent company to install the system with utmost care and professionalism.

“Installation is the hardest part,” he says. “There is a lot involved. The device is complicated. It takes about two days to install our products properly. You have to take the car apart to interface with the doors, the engine and things like that. There are temperature sensors that must be installed.”

The temperature sensors are small and if they are not installed correctly in the proper place, the dog might damage them, he adds. “We put in dual sensors so that if one sensor malfunctions, the other sensor will take over, if for some extreme reason both sensors are not functional, the alarm activates immediately” he says.

He emphasizes that not all installers are equal. “Some of them already know how to install our equipment properly and others might need a little bit of help. So, it’s important to have the manufacture available to help with install questions when needed.”

It's vital to test the system weekly to ensure it works properly.It's vital to test the system weekly to ensure it works properly.IMAGE: AceK9The Importance of Regular Testing

Once installed, the system should be tested weekly to confirm all alert systems are working properly, he adds.

A display message on the AceK9 control head reminds officers to perform weekly system tests. The officer activates a menu button to test the system, triggering alarms, moving the windows, and performing other checks to ensure the product functions properly.

“We promote the concept of testing the system when they do their weekly training events,” Johnston says. “This tests makes sure everything is functioning properly. Any mechanical item, like the windows, can stop working if they get full of dog hair and other debris.”

If any concerns or problems come up, Johnston advises getting the system fixed before there is a real alarm event!

Keep a Watchful Eye

While technology offers reassurance, officers must still remain vigilant and regularly check on K9s left alone in a vehicle, Johnston advises.

“It’s something that should be done regularly,” he says. “Of course, if you have AceWatchdog, you can glance at your phone to see if temperatures are OK and check status from there. But with other systems, handlers must go back to their cars to check on them. It doesn’t take long for something bad to happen.”

Heat rises quickly in a vehicle, he adds. “AceWatchDog also texts warnings before the alarm activated. If you get a warning that your temperature is going up, you should make your way to your vehicle promptly to see what is going on,” he says.




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