Safety device will prevent repeat of tragic K-9 death

After the death of Jon-Jon, the police dog trapped in a burning squad car in February, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office is installing special safety devices in all four canine vehicles.

Sgt. Joe Duffy, who partners with a German shepherd narcotics dog named Kilo, said these new "K9 Hot-n-Pop Pros" are extremely important.

"If temperatures in the vehicle reach 90 degrees or there's a fire, an alarm sounds and the rear windows drop," he said. "This new system can sense an electrical short just like the one that caused the vehicle fire that ultimately led to Jon Jon's death. It's built specifically to prevent what we had happen."

Officer Rick Koontz was out of the car on a routine call when his 2004 Crown Victoria patrol car caught fire. Jon Jon was in the car. Duffy tried to save the dog, but the heat, smoke and fire had already engulfed the vehicle.

The problem was ultimately traced to the car's electrical system.

A black Labrador retriever that had been with the sheriff's office for four years, Jon Jon was trained to detect narcotics.

"If one of these devices had been installed, Jon Jon would have been able to save himself," said Douglas County sheriff's Deputy Scott Battcher.

These retrofits, which cost $1,000 for each, were funded by private donations.

"Nothing's 100 percent, but through the support of the community we've been able to purchase one for each canine handler," Duffy said.

The sheriff's office has organized a special public demonstration 10 a.m. Oct. 7 at Lampe Park Pavilion in Gardnerville to honor the people of Douglas County for their contributions.

In addition to demonstrations, the public will be able to get up-close and personal with these specially trained dogs, which cost $6,000 - $10,000 each, Duffy said.

"With the money we received after Jon Jon's death, we were able to buy Deputy Koontz a new dog," Duffy said. "We wouldn't have been able to do that without the support of the community."

Douglas County has five dogs right now, trained either for narcotics or finding suspects. Duffy's dog Kilo will retire in December, bringing that number back down to four.

The Sheriff's Office has used these dogs since 1996 and they require four hours of training a week to keep them in top form. In addition to detecting narcotics, they are used to find suspects.

In December, Duffy's dog Kilo helped in the search for a bank robber who hid in a dog crate, he said.

"We wouldn't find those types of criminals without the dogs. They're definitely worth the money and a huge asset for law enforcement," Duffy said. "But they aren't just used for criminals."

The dogs are also used to track lost children or older adults with Alzheimers who wander off, Duffy said.

Battcher, who showed off a 19-month-old Czechoslovakian shepherd named Rony at Lampe Park Friday, said most of these dogs come from Europe. Used primarily for apprehension and tracking, the dog lives with him and the two are partners 24 hours a day.

"He's a cross between a Belgian Malinois and a shepherd," he said. "He rides with me 10 hours a day and we're on 24-hour call out."

Susie Vasquez can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 211.

What: Special demonstration of the K9 Hot-n-Pop Pro safety device and Douglas County's police dogs

When: 10 a.m. Oct. 7

Where: Lampe Park Pavilion in Gardnerville


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