At least eight police dogs died Thursday after the air conditioning in the truck that was transporting them broke down ahead of a two-hour traffic delay.
Nineteen German Shepherds were packed into a box truck that left O’Hare Airport in Chicago for a K9 training facility in Michigan City, Indiana when the tragedy occurred, according to the Lake Station Police Department.
It is unclear when during the 60-mile, multi-hour drive the AC unit stopped working.
“Upon failure, the temperature rose inside and some of the canines, due to the extreme heat from today’s high temperature began rising inside the cargo area,” police said.
“Since the cargo area was separated, the driver wasn’t aware at the time that the AC unit failed which caused some of the canines to go into heat-related medical distress.”
The truck driver — whose identity is being withheld by investigators — was nearing his final destination when he heard anguished barking and pulled the vehicle over, but by then it was too late.
Images shared by the Humane Society of Hobart, Indiana show law enforcement and animal rescuers desperately trying to save the dying dogs in what police described as a “chaotic” scene.
Some of the canines were seen immobile laying on wet towels, while others appeared to be walking dizzily around a gas station lot.
One shocking image shows that one of the dogs appeared malnourished, with its ribs protruding from its skinny body.
“They were seizing on the scene, dying on the scene and had heatstroke,” Jenny Webber, the executive director of the Humane Society, told NBC.
Eight of the animals died from heat exhaustion, while five others are fighting for their lives at animal hospitals, Webber said.
According to the animal activist, the truck driver was allowed to continue his journey to Michigan with some of the survivors and the bodies of the dead dogs still in the cargo truck.
“This was really shocking for us,” Webber said, adding that the Human Society noticed several red flags with the handling of the poor pooches.
Webber claims the truck driver did not have the proper paperwork to handle the animals and did not present any documents to the group.
The dogs, which had been placed in individual crates, were also unsecured inside the truck, according to Webber.
When the activist group pushed for more information on the K9 transport operation, they were allegedly denied by police.
The Lake Station Department, however, ruled that there was no foul play in the death of half the transported K9s.
“Any loss of life is tragic and thoughts and prayers are with all those that were affect by this ‘freak event.’ The Lake Station Police Department believes after speaking with the person (s) involved that this was not an act of animal cruelty or neglect but a mechanical failure of the AC unit that was being used in the cargo area,” it said in a statement.
“We can’t express enough our heartfelt condolences for the loss of some of the canines.”
The tragic loss is just the latest in a string of K9 deaths due to insufficient AC technology.
In June alone, at least two police dogs died from heat exhaustion after they were left inside vehicles with faulty equipment.
In both cases, the alarm systems — which notifies the handler, sounds the horn, activates cooling fans and rolls down the car windows in the case of an engine shutdown — had malfunctioned.