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As the temperature rises in the upcoming summer months, the number of deaths resulting from children and pets left in hot cars is a more frequent occurrence. In a tragic incident last summer in Florida, a police officer left a K9 dog in a hot police car for hours. Sadly, the dog died. However, recently, following an investigation, the State Attorney’s Office cleared the cop of all charges. 

Florida police officer left K9 dog in a hot car for over four hours, leading to her death

Police officer with K9 dog, highlighting K9 dog in Florida that died after left in hot car and cop avoided charges
K9 dog and a police officer | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On June 23, 2021, in Melbourne, Florida, Officer Robin Viera-Gonzalez left Zena, a two-year-old female K9 police dog, in his hot patrol car, as reported by WKMG News 6 ClickOrlando. She was in the car for over four hours on a nearly 90-degree day without water. Zena’s handler checked on the dog following a training class. He then found her dead in the back of the patrol car, parked in a lot at Eastern Florida State College’s police academy.

Zena, a Belgian Malinois, joined the police department in August 2020. She was certified for duty two months before her death. Upon finding the dead dog in the back of the police car, the handler said, “She’s dead!” “I told them so!” 

Melbourne Police Department investigated the death of the K9 dog

After the death of the K9 police dog, the Melbourne Police Department investigated the incident. The investigation found that the patrol “car’s emergency alarm and the fan never turned on.” Also, Officer Viera-Gonzalez “waited more than four hours before finally returning to the parking lot.”

Additionally, the Melbourne Police Department said that Officer Viera-Gonzalez commented “about how he was aware the vehicle had a history of mechanical problems.” Furthermore, “another K9 officer said the 2014 Chevy Caprice was a spare police car.” It was “not the usual K9 vehicle Viera-Gonzalez drove.” That officer stated that the “regular vehicle’s emergency cooling system could run even when the car was turned off.” However, “for the spare car, it did not function unless the car was running.”

A doctor said that “K9 Zena likely died from a heat stroke.” As a result, the investigation recommended an animal cruelty charge against the officer. The report states, “Canine Zena was unnecessarily tormented and killed.”

Following the investigation, the State Attorney’s Office chose not to prosecute the police officer

K9 dog jumping out of police car, highlighting K9 dog that died after left in hot car and officer avoided charges
K9 police dog jumps out of patrol car | Photo by Arne Dedert/Picture alliance via Getty Images

Despite an animal cruelty charge recommendation against Officer Viera-Gonzolez, the State Attorney’s Office chose not to prosecute him. Todd Brown, a spokesperson with the State Attorney’s Office in Brevard County, explained this decision to WKMG News 6. He said that after the criminal investigation with a “thorough review,” his office “did not elect to file a criminal charge.” Brown continued, “Based on the totality of the evidence and unfortunate circumstances that led to the K9′s death, we did not believe that prosecution of Officer Viera-Gonzalez was warranted.”

Officer Viera-Gonzalez avoided charges. However, the Melbourne Police Department concluded that he made “several policy violations.” Based on this, it recommended that he be suspended without pay. After hearing about the suspension, Officer Viera-Gonzolez resigned. 

How fast (and at what temperature) can a dog die in a hot car?

The K9 dog died after the police officer left her in a hot car for over four hours. This is considerably longer than the time it takes for a dog to die in a hot car, according to PETA. The animal rights organization describes hot cars as “death traps.”

PETA states that “on a 70-degree day, the temperature inside [a car] can soar to 99 degrees in 20 minutes.” For a “90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 109 degrees in just 10 minutes.” In a hot car, dogs and other animals “can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes.”


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