The Waynesboro, Ga., Police Department has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a police dog after the veterinarian who euthanized it said the dog did not appear to have been beyond help, as its handler claimed.
The department held a memorial service for the dog, Po Po, on Wednesday, where Officer Bruce Petitt said the dog had stepped in meth-producing chemicals during a warrant service two days before and apparently ingested or absorbed them.
Petitt said a veterinarian had told him it was too late to save the dog, so it had been put down.
But Friday, Dr. Sarah Ford, the veterinarian who put the dog to sleep, said Po Po did not appear to have symptoms of poisoning.
"I work with dogs every day that have been poisoned by different chemicals, and he certainly didn't exhibit any symptoms that a poisoned dog would have," said Ford, of the Burke County Animal Hospital.
Ford said Petitt made an appointment two days after the chemical contact strictly for euthanasia. No toxicology reports were filed through her office.
But Petitt acknowledged that a urine test was performed by an Augusta lab and that no trace of narcotics was found.
Petitt, who has been a handler since 1980, told Ford that Po Po was having 10 seizures a day.
"When I saw the dog, I was expecting to see some out-of-it, drooling, staggering type situation," Ford said, "but that dog was normal."
Because the dog was Petitt's personal property, Ford said law obligates her to honor his request for euthanasia, but not before recommending alternate care.
"Because the dog acted normal, I said that we should really hospitalize the dog and give him a chance," she said. "Every canine unit that I've ever talked to would give their right arm for the dog and give them every last chance."
Petitt denies that these suggestions were ever made. He said Ford commented that Po Po was either losing or had already lost his vision.
"If anybody would have given me any possibility that this dog could recover, there's no way I would be going through this or putting my kids and half of my department through this," Petitt said Friday. "If Dr. Ford said she said there was anything that could save him then she's an absolute liar."
Another veterinarian, Dr. Bruce Gradous, saw the dog before it was brought to Ford.
Gradous would not discuss his treatment of Po Po, but Petitt said Gradous put the dog on anti-seizure medication and flushed its system with IVs. He said Gradous was the one who suggested that Po Po had come into contact with meth.
Seizure medication, however, didn't seem to improve the dog's conditions, Petitt said. Gradous was ready to put Po Po to sleep, but Petitt said he wasn't ready and waited a day before taking the dog to Ford.
Police Chief Karl Allen said he had just learned of Ford's complaints Friday morning and that the department would investigate but he could give no further details.
Though Po Po belonged to Pettit, the city was about to contract to lease the dog for $1,000 per month. Documents were to have been signed by the City Council's Public Safety Committee on May 17, according to Chairman Richard Byne.
The committee still plans to lease Dee-Moe, another dog of Petitt's. Byne said the committee was comfortable staying with the handler because of Po Po's success.
"This is a big investigation because the dog has done such a great job," Byne said. "I think Officer Petitt is a great officer and we respect him very much, but this is something we need to follow up on."