At least 8 dogs die from heat stroke when air conditioning fails in truck: NW Indiana authorities

The Humane Society of Hobart, the contracted provider for animal care and control services in Lake Station, issued a statement criticizing Lake Station police for not following protocol at the scene.

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At least eight dogs died from heat stroke and multiple others were rushed to veterinary hospitals on Thursday after an air conditioning unit malfunctioned while they were being taken to a training facility in Michigan, according to authorities.

The situation unfolded at around 7:40 p.m., when the driver of a box truck was bringing 18 shepherds from O'Hare International Airport to a K-9 training facility, according to the Humane Society of Hobart. Lake Station police, which were called to investigate the incident, said the temperature began rising after an AC unit in the cargo area stopped working when the vehicle became caught in traffic for two hours. With the cargo area separated from the driver, he didn't immediately realize what was happening until some of the dogs started barking, police said.

The driver subsequently stopped at the Road Ranger gas station on Ripley Street in Lake Station, just south of Interstate 94. He entered the cargo area, police said, saw that canines were in distress and began removing those that had been placed in crates. While passersby stopped to help, calls were made to 911, resulting in a response from police, firefighters and EMS personnel.

The Humane Society of Hobart, the contracted provider for animal care and control services in Lake Station, issued a statement, criticizing Lake Station police for not following protocol and allowing the truck driver to leave with some of the animals without securing the vehicle - in violation of municipal code - and prior to the completion of an investigation.

Jenny Webber, the humane society's executive director, explained that she responded to the scene, where she met with Sgt. McKenzie of the Lake Station Police Department and began to explain protocol. The sergeant said what occurred was simply a mistake and that the owner of the dogs was going to handle the situation, at which point Webber asked if the owner had valid vaccination records, permitted health certifications to establish safe temperatures for transport and a certified veterinary license to transport across state lines, according to the humane society.

"I stated that it appeared he was not in compliance with several of our codes and that we should seize all pets, transport medical patients to emergency care, do an investigation and return the animals once compliance was proved and fines and fees paid," Webber wrote. "This made the owner very mad."

The owner was derogatory and belligerent and then said he didn't want anyone from the humane society to touch his dogs, according to the executive director. Webber explained that McKenzie complied with the owner's request, while multiple vehicles with air conditioning stood by to transport additional dogs. As a result of the delay, she stated, more lives were lost.

Seven dogs were taken to veterinary hospitals by ambulances instead of the vehicles waiting to transport them, according to Webber. She said that several of the animals had to be euthanized due to heat stroke, and in total, estimated that between 8 and 11 dogs died.

Webber said she then informed the police sergeant that the remaining four dogs on scene were in need of medical attention, but he permitted the owner to continue transporting those dogs and a number of those that had already died.

"All of the dogs need to be hospitalized, they're exhibiting signs, diarrhea, vomiting, even though they're up and moving, they're not going to make it unless we get them to the hospital," she said. "Instead, the officer allowed him to take the dogs back into the truck that they were dying in and allowed them to transport illegally back to Michigan."

The owner drove away in the "same broken truck with the doors off, without properly securing the animals," which is required when transporting on the expressway, according to the municipal code, Webber stated.

"It was really, really difficult and challenging," she told NBC Chicago in an interview. "We really are highly trained professionals in this area, and we're trained to really focus on, you know, the health of the pet and to advocate for the pet. We felt a real disservice in not being able to act."

Before leaving the scene, the dogs' owner sold one of the animals to a bystander willing to help for $7,500, the executive director said.

"We have worked alongside Lake Station for many years and cannot explain why protocol was not followed," Webber added. "Pursuant to our contract, we are trying to seize possession of the remaining hospitalized pets so we can ensure an investigation is completed."

Webber provided NBC Chicago with a copy of a Notice of Seizure, in which the Humane Society of Hobart wrote that it is seizing the possession of five shepherd canines pursuant to the sections of Lake Station municipal code regarding animals in motor vehicles, impoundment procedures, penalty and impoundment.

In a Facebook post written in the hours following the incident, the Lake Station Police Department said it spoke with the person(s) involved and believed what occurred was not an act of animal cruelty or neglect, but a mechanical failure of the AC unit in the cargo area. Police didn't specifically address the Humane Society's involvement, but said, "The scene was chaotic and took an emotional toll on all that were involved in trying to save as many canines as possible."

"Any loss of life is tragic and thoughts and prayers are with all those that were affected by this 'freak event,'" the post continued, in part.

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