German shepherds that were being transported from Chicago to a training center for police dogs in Michigan City, Ind., died in the heat Thursday after an air conditioning unit that was being used to keep the animals cool failed, local authorities said.
The Lake Station Police Department, which responded to a chaotic scene at a gas station off the interstate in Lake Station, Ind., did not specify in a statement issued Friday how many dogs had been en route to the training center or how many had died. A local animal rescue organization in Hobart, about 3 miles south, estimated that 18 dogs had been in the vehicle and that at least eight of them had died during or after the episode.
The driver had been stuck in a traffic delay for two hours and had not been aware of the air conditioner’s failure because the dogs were in a separate cargo area, the statement said. The driver was alerted to their distress when he heard barking.
The area near Hobart reached highs of at least 91 degrees Thursday, according to the Chicago forecast office of the National Weather Service.
The Police Department said it responded to 911 calls after the driver of the vehicle stopped at a Road Ranger convenience store, and, seeing that the dogs were in distress, began to remove their crates.
Jennifer Webber, executive director of the Humane Society of Hobart, who went to the gas station to provide assistance Thursday, said in an interview Sunday that she was “heartbroken” by what she saw and by the conditions of the transport truck. She said that some of the dogs died from heatstroke while “seizing and convulsing” at the scene, and that other dogs appeared to have died in their crates, which had very small water bowls.
“It was something I’ve never experienced and hope I never do again,” she said, adding, “It’s not safe to travel with animals when temperatures are that high.”
Webber said that four of the dogs were dead or died at the scene and that at least four others had to be euthanized after being taken to an animal clinic, though police did not confirm that account. She said that the gas station allowed for its convenience store to be used to cool some of the animals.
The Humane Society, which is a contractual partner of the Police Department, said in a statement Friday that care and safety protocols had not been followed in transporting the dogs. The nonprofit said that it had recommended all of the animals be seized until “compliance was proved” by the owner, but that the request was denied by a sergeant at the scene.
Chief James Richardson of the Lake Station Police Department said in an email Sunday that the department would not be issuing any further statements until an investigation was completed.