Officer John Doscinski wrapped bandages around his patient’s hairy leg the wrong way, then accidentally tore the gauze.
When he finished, he wiped sweat off his brow.
It’s not easy when your patient is a dog, even when it’s sedated and you’re just pretending its leg is broken.
But a six-hour crash course in canine first aid Wednesday equipped the students — 18 Suffolk County police officers and one from Riverhead Town — with the skills to save their K-9 partners and other dogs that become victims of fires and disasters.
From needle tracheotomies to drug-detection dogs’ heroin overdose, the experts at the East End Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Riverhead taught the officers when to “scoop and run” to the nearest veterinarian and when they must “stay and play” by stabilizing the animal because it could die at any moment.
“They’re members of our department, so we need to treat them as well,” said Second Precinct Officer Josh Parsons, who’s part of his department’s quick-response teams of paramedics and EMTs. “There’s nobody else who’s going to do this. We really don’t have veterinarians in the field.”
It was the second such class in a year or so, with its genesis in a conversation between Suffolk K-9 Officer Brendan Gayer and East End hospital veterinarian Robin Jaeger, who also was an instructor in the one-day training.
In the past, police dogs working for various agencies in the county have been injured or gotten sick, the officers said. One canine was stabbed, and another fatally shot. Another police dog fell through a roof.
Gayer and other officers said they didn’t have a lot of options in those situations.
“Basically the fallback we had was make a phone call and see how fast you can drive to get your dog to the hospital,” he said.
Veterinarians at the animal hospital showed the group how to intubate a dog, pull medicine from a vial with a syringe, insert a catheter into a vein, find the femoral artery and more.
The officers practiced on dogs belonging to staffers at the hospital, including a German shepherd and a Belgian Malinois, the breeds most likely to be tapped as police dogs. The dogs were sedated and their owners were there the entire time with no gripes, even when doggy hair got pulled off with bandages.
The veterinarians answered plenty of officers’ nitty gritty questions - how deep to stick the needle into the muscle, whether dogs’ organs were in the same places as in humans, if it was better to use the right or left hand to feel for the pulse in the leg, how high the leg splints should go and if the medical equipment they had in their police vehicles could be used for dogs.
There was advice that probably only K-9 officers appreciated. For example, sometimes when their dogs are sniffing for drugs, they may get a whiff of heroin up their nose and get knocked out. Jaeger told them to wipe the heroin off the noses of their dogs before giving them mouth-to-snout CPR.
The training was provided for free by the animal hospital and included an animal first aid kit for each officer. The 24-hour business is one of three Suffolk animal hospitals designated as emergency treatment centers for the Suffolk police department’s four-legged members.
“For the team, it gives a sense of contribution to society,” veterinarian Gal Vatash, the hospital’s co-founder, said of his staff. “It’s very powerful.”
Most of the officers in the class were dog handlers and all were from Suffolk County police except for Doscinski, a canine officer with Riverhead police.
He said he wants to do right by his latest partner, Titan, an 18-month-old German shepherd he got Friday. Doscinski said he wanted to learn how to stabilize his partner in emergencies, bring him alive to a veterinarian and let the experts do the jabbing.
“That’s the whole purpose, recognizing the signs in the field,” Doscinski said. “As far as sticking needles in and stuff, I’m not big on that. I don’t even like needles stuck in me.”