“The Great Houdini”

Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer born in 1878 who later became known as “The World’s Greatest Escape Artist” for his sensational escape acts. There are some police dogs today that have earned the “The Great Houdini” nickname for their ability to perform routine escapes that aren’t even that sensational – and it’s not intended as a good nickname.

es·cape  əˈskāp/   Verb;  break free from confinement or control.   Noun;  an act of breaking free from confinement or control.

It happens – police dogs “escape” from their kennels, yards, police cars and sometimes even from their handlers – and bad things often happen as a result.  There are many stories across the country of actual incidents involving working dogs and retired dogs [and former police dogs] that have escaped on-duty and off-duty and bitten innocent men, women and children – including family and friends of the handlers.  The vast majority of these incidents were preventable.  Some of the incidents involved a violation of policy.  There have been injuries sustained and settlements paid.  Can your agency afford such a settlement?  Can you afford the trouble?

I’m not talking about natural disasters or Mother Nature’s assistance with lifting kennels off the ground or collapsing fences that have allowed a few dogs to wander their respective neighborhoods.  I’m talking about basic (and sometimes blatant) failures to follow policy [or common sense] in most cases by not properly securing the dog when not under the immediate control of the handler or authorized care giver.  It’s not that difficult to remember to make sure your police dog is properly secured.  Complacency and “my dog won’t escape and bite anyone” attitudes are commonly associated with some of these tragic incidents.

Are these “escapes” considered incidents or accidents?  I don’t think it’s an accident when the handler is negligent and could have prevented the incident.

Here’s a standard policy for off-duty;  When off-duty, police dogs shall be maintained in kennels at the homes of their handlers. When a police dog is kenneled at the K9 handler’s home, the gate shall be secured with a lock. When off-duty, police dogs may be let out of their kennels while under the direct control of their handlers.  

NOTE:  This policy or something very similar should be a requirement for retired police dogs and former police dogs and specifically addressed in writing as a requirement or recommendation within an agreement when the dog is purchased.  It should be considered a “common sense clause” if not written or required.

Unfortunately, and maybe a little ironic, there are only a few policies that actually require the handler to make sure the dog is properly secured when the handler is not present or under the immediate control of the handler when on-duty.  It’s often assumed – but not often written.  What does your policy require?

As a kid growing up, I watched the Harry Houdini movie many times and dreamed about becoming “The Great Houdini” by practicing various escape routines.  I struggled getting the handcuffs off so I later decided on a career to put handcuffs on people instead of trying to escape from them – and I was much more successful.  I’m certain you don’t want your dog tagged with “The Great Houdini” nickname so take the necessary steps to prevent it and you’ll stay out of trouble.  If you don’t have a policy section to address the issue, I recommend you make one now.

Take care, be safe and take steps to prevent escapes by your dog…

Bill Lewis II

This “Reason” was originally shared on September 30, 2015