Intermountain Life Flight Launches K9 Medical Air Transport Program for Public Safety Animals Needing Medical Care

In a unique collaboration with local veterinarians, specialized animal hospitals, and public safety agencies, Intermountain Life Flight, one of the nation’s premier medical transport programs, is launching a specialized operational K9 transport service.

This new service will provide transport for operational K9’s needing emergent medical care or who are injured in the line of duty in Utah.

Representatives from Intermountain Life Flight, participating veterinarians, and law enforcement and public agency dog handlers and officers unveiled the new Intermountain Life Flight Operations K9 Transport Program on Tuesday at a press conference where they talked about how this new air transport program aims to save these animals who are injured while serving the public.

Dog handlers and their animals from more than a dozen public safety agencies joined the announcement. It’s estimated that there are more than 100 operational public safety K9s working in Utah.

“Operational K9’s are essential to our public service community,” said Tammy Bleak, director of clinical operations for Intermountain Life Flight. “These animals are involved in EMS, search and rescue, law enforcement, fire rescue, FEMA, narcotics detection, and TSA. Training for one of these K9’s can range from $40,000 to $70,000 and take four to five years to train. When one of these operational K9’s is injured, it is a potential loss to the community and that agency. Until now, there has been no formal process to help these animals when they need medical care.”

The Intermountain Life Flight Operations K9 Transport Program is the first air medical program of its kind in Utah – and only the third air medical program in the nation that is designated to care for and transport public agency service animals for medical care.

Intermountain Life Flight will be transporting any operational K9 needing emergent medical or surgical services.

The new program is designed to serve the entire state. If a working K9 is injured (for example, gunshot wound, impalement, or automobile accident), the agency or handler can contact Intermountain Life Flight directly.

Intermountain Life Flight will transport the K9 and handler (human partner) to one of several pre-designated veterinary hospitals. These hospitals are advanced specialty/emergency veterinary hospitals which are open 24 hours a day, have board-certified surgical and/or critical care specialist veterinarians on staff, and have advanced life-support equipment such as ventilators and banked blood for transfusions.

“This is analogous to human medicine where a severe trauma victim might be diverted to a Level I Trauma hospital rather than transported to a closer or smaller medical facility,” according to Laura McLain, DVM, veterinary medical director for the Intermountain Life Flight Operations K9 Transport Program. 

The designated vet hospitals are: MedVet Salt Lake City; 2) MedVet in Sunset; and Mountain West Veterinary Specialists in Layton.

“These working dogs are awesome,” said Dr. McLain. “They save lives and serve our community. They can find a survivor buried under six feet of rubble concrete and rebar in a matter of minutes. As a veterinarian, it is an honor to care for these dogs.”

Law enforcement officers with the West Jordan Police Department agree.

The department lost their police K9, Maya, when she was shot and killed in 2022 by a fugitive who was being pursued by police.

“This is a terrific program and vital resource for our officers and their K9s,” said Sgt. Kendall Holt, with the West Jordan City Police Department. “The loss of Maya was an immeasurable pain that we felt from that day, and we are still trying to recover from it.”

Box Elder County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Kennedy says having a medical K9 program to provide care for his 20-month-old narcotics dog, named Elvis, is comforting, in the event he’s ever injured.

“He lives with me, he goes to work with me every day, he eats lunch with me — he pretty much goes everywhere with me,” said Kennedy. “Knowing that there is quality medical care available to him like there would be for you and I is a very big thing for us.”