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Police canine facility is safe, officials declare


Baltimore County officials declared the Police Department's canine facility safe yesterday, saying tests found no environmental links to the deaths of five police dogs that spent time there.

Tests on soil and groundwater showed that the site and surrounding area at Southwest Area Park pose no health risks to officers or dogs, county officials said. They vowed to reopen all portions of the park immediately and to try to move the canine unit back to its facility within six weeks.

"There is no increased risk for humans and canines at this site," county environmental chief David A.C. Carroll told reporters at police headquarters in Towson. "This site is safe."

Cole B. Weston, president of the Baltimore County police union, which has raised concerns about the facility, said he would not comment specifically on the findings until union-hired analysts reviewed them.

The tests were performed by EA Engineering, Science and Technology of Hunt Valley on a 70-acre parcel of the park that is the site of the canine unit, a playground and athletic fields. The athletic fields and other portions of the park were built on top of a former landfill.

County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan closed the canine building in September after the deaths of two dogs and the health complaints of some officers stationed there.

In all, five dogs that had been stationed at the facility died last year. The county police union said it believed that four of the animals died of cancer and raised questions about the site.

The county sent the test results and the dogs' medical records to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The society's Animal Poison Control Center determined that two dogs died of cancer, a third died of a collapsed lung and a fourth died of bacterial infection. The police union is paying for the necropsy of the fifth dog, which died in December.

Sharon Gwaltney-Brant of the ASPCA said the two cancer cases -- lymphoma and brain cancer -- were likely of a "hereditary nature than an environmental nature."

She pointed out that older dogs and bigger breeds face increased risk of disease. The dogs that died of cancer were a 6-year-old bloodhound and an 8-year-old German shepherd.

"None of the BCPD police dogs developed illnesses related to chemicals identified in the soil and water nor is there any evidence to suggest that environmental conditions pose any health risk to dogs that work, exercise or are housed there," according to a report released yesterday by the county.

In September, about 30 employees of the canine unit filed injury reports with the department, some complaining of headaches, dizziness and respiratory problems. Yesterday, a county-hired physician said that medical tests on those employees and about 20 others who spent time at the park showed no serious medical problems or abnormalities.

Weston, the police union president, predicted that some officers would be reluctant to return to the facility.

"I keep reverting back to five dogs dying within 10 1/2 months," he said. "It's a huge concern for us."

Sheridan said that he would meet with the union to review the results, and that he hoped to have the 29-officer unit back at the facility within six weeks.

County officials estimate that the tests cost $300,000.

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