K-9 Saves Suicidal Teenage Boy's Life
A K-9 in California successfully thwarted a suicide attempt by a teenage boy on Saturday evening. (Pet Pulse Illustration by Tim Mattson)
MODESTO, Calif. -- Modesto police officer James Murphy wasn't certain his K-9, Caesar, wouldn't seriously attack the 15-year-old boy he ordered the dog to accost.
But one dog bite couldn't have compared to the impact of falling from a 20-foot bridge over a major highway, Lt. Ron Cloward reasoned.
The two-and-a-half year old German Shepherd is now being credited with saving the life of a suicidal teenager, who tried to scale a eight-foot fence and jump off an overpass.
Officer Murphy was dispatched to downtown Modesto at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, in response to a call about two suspicious teenage boys hanging out near railroad tracks.
When Murphy located the pair, one of the teenage boys began running across an overpass that covers Hwy 99. In a suicide attempt, the 15-year-old began to climb the tall wired fence that surrounded the bridge.
Murphy realized that the teen would quickly scale the fence's length and commanded Caesar to attack.
"Under those circumstances, he felt that it was worth the risk of a potential dog bite, rather than actually having the suspect killing himself, which would have been a good bet," said Sgt. Brian Finlen, the department's public information officer, of Murphy's response to the situation.
"It was a 20-, 30-foot drop to the freeway below. And if the kid didn't die from the fall alone, he would have been hit by a car."
Caesar apprehended the teenager by biting his baggy pant leg and pulling him off the fence.
The boy suffered a slight scratch on his leg and was transported to a behavioral health center, Finlen said.
New to the K-9 unit, Caesar, with five months of experience, had no way of discerning that the boy was not a criminal.
The dog simply followed a basic command charge, snatching the teen by his baggy clothes, Finlen says.
"He didn't know not to hurt the kid," Finlen said. "There was no way to instruct or command the dog to not do anything except go after the suspect. Luckily, it all worked out pretty well."
Caesar is one of 14 K-9s working with the Modesto Police Dept., says Cloward, who oversees the K-9 unit.
Most of the dogs are German Shepherds, though a few Belgian Malinois and one Labrador Retriever are also on the force.
This incident marks Caesar's seventh apprehension, though all of his previous ones have targeted alleged criminals.
Cloward says the Modesto Police Dept. is one of the few in the area permitted to use K-9s in mental health, and not just criminal, situations.
The dogs' presence can cause some people who are threatening their own lives to "literally give up," Cloward says.
"There is this one guy in town who is always threatening suicide," Cloward said. "He isn't afraid of tasers or anything else, but when we throw a dog into the situation he always complies."
"They are such a great deterrent. The dogs just stand there, barking and showing their teeth. And people aren't always afraid of cops, but when faced with the dog, they back down."
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