A new law recently took effect in Tennessee making harming any first responder animal a class B felony. It now carries a sentence of 8-30 years behind bars. Before the law change, killing a law enforcement animal used to be treated the same as stealing, a class E felony.
Tennessee joins a handful of states in recently increasing penalties. The nonprofit organization K9s United helped initiate the change in Florida.
“At the time, it was only a third-degree felony if you kill the canine, which is the same as if someone stole something of $300 or less,” pointed out K9s United founder Debbie Johnson.
She started the organization after the murder of K9 Baron in St. John’s County, Florida, and after learning canine units are some of the most expensive to run and can sometimes be the most underfunded.
K9s United started fundraising to help purchase equipment, heat alarms, and even dogs for law enforcement canine units. Then, after more deaths of K9 officers, it got involved in legislative efforts. K9s United also advocated for ensuring these four-legged officers get the same emergency medical treatment as people when they are injured in Florida.
“We had an incident with an ATF canine. His vehicle had an electrical fire. He was trapped in the car. They finally got him out and the fire captain made the command decision for the canine to be transported by EMS and saved his life,” Johnson recalled.
Johnson is now working with Congresswoman Kat Cammack to introduce legislation that would make harming a K9 officer a federal offense.
For now, K9s United hosts training and first aid seminars for these units. They also provide a portrait of every fallen K9 officer to their handler.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, there have been nearly 500 K9 officer deaths dating back to 1877. K9s United has presented more than 220 portraits.
They are hosting a virtual memorial run in honor of the K9s lost in 2021 on Sept. 1, 2022.
The group is also currently taking pre-orders for a Florida specialty license plate and need 3,000 sales in order to move forward with production. Pre-sales are limited to Florida only.