“A tragic accident”: Sheriff amends policies after April K-9 death

Published 12:05 am Friday, July 7, 2023

ROWAN COUNTY — Three months after a K-9 officer with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office died of heat exhaustion, Sheriff Travis Allen announced that his department’s investigation had ruled it an accident.

According to a statement from the RCSO, the K-9, “Kantor,” was in his handler’s patrol vehicle at the officer’s residence when he died.

The report said that Kantor’s handler was off duty and out of town at the time of Kantor’s death. Kantor was reportedly at home with one adult family member and one 17-year-old family member.

During the morning hours, the adult family member left for work, leaving Kantor and the 17-year-old family member at home.

The release said that at some point, Kantor became “agitated and restless.”

The family member put Kantor in his county-issued vehicle, started the engine, turned the air conditioning on and closed the door. The report described that act as a commonly-used practice aimed to reduce stress for a working police K-9 due to the amount of time they spend in the kennel inside their patrol vehicle. The 17-year-old family member was aware that this would likely calm the K-9.

At some point, the vehicle’s engine shut off, causing the heat level inside the vehicle to rise. The adult family member returned home and found Kantor dead in the kennel of the patrol SUV. The handler, who was approximately three hours away, was already on his way back home when he received the call from his family notifying him that Kantor was dead.

“Our investigation revealed that at the time Kantor was placed in the vehicle, the air conditioning was running,” the release said. “The vehicle dealership has not been able to determine why the SUV’s engine shut off. The teen was not aware the K-9 protection system needed to be activated, which would have sounded an alarm when the temperature inside the SUV reached a certain level.”

Kantor’s handler and his family were reportedly devastated by the loss. Allen ordered a review of the K-9 policy to take proactive steps to prevent that from happening again.

According to the RCSO statement, all of the heat alarms in the K-9 vehicles will now be wired to allow them to be activated automatically once the vehicle is started and will remain activated when the K-9 is inside.

“We have also adopted new policies as it relates to the care for these K-9s when they are at home, and the handler cannot be with them,” the release said. “As part of our investigation, we also consulted with the District Attorney’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. As an additional step, we have asked another Sheriff’s Office to review this tragic situation.”

Allen called the death a tragic accident.

“His passing brought devastating sorrow to the handler and his family,” Allen said. “These K-9s are not just working dogs but also loved companions and close friends to the handlers and families they live with every day. The RCSO can replace Kantor, but the handler and his family will forever have the loss and void of his companionship and devotion. We here at the RCSO have taken steps and made policy changes to help avoid these tragic accidents in the future.”

Kantor’s cremated remains were put into a wooden box to be stored in his handler’s passenger seat.