As K-9 handlers know, taking care of their dog officer is a rewarding experience. Yet doing so can also be time-consuming.

While these handlers are responsible for keeping their dog groomed and cleaned, the presence of a dog inside K-9 police vehicles can adversely impact the vehicle's interior over time. A plan to clean or recondition the vehicle once taken out of the fleet is crucial, particularly when the vehicle is offered to private parties for sale.

Preventing a Mess

Methods are available to prevent staining by canines. On the market, for example, are seat covers designed to fit all vans, trucks, SUVs, and mid-size sedans with bench or fold-down rear seats. This high-quality fabric has a soft, suede-like feel dogs enjoy, while elastic side straps and metal hooks ensure secure fit.

The seat covers, which generally run $60-$90, help protect a vehicle's upholstery from dog hair, stains, odors, and toenail snags. The covers can be easily machine-washed and dried on a cool setting.

One effective way to remove dog hairs is to use a thin wire brush to work up the fabric flattened by the dog, then vacuum the area. Following that, officers can use a wet rag and run it against the grain of the fabric on the seats. If hair remains, wrap packaging or duct tape around the hand  to wipe against the grain of the fabric and pick up excess hair.

Another way to pick up pet hair or dandruff is to wipe the seat with a lint brush at least once a week. This step will keep hair from piling up and odors from accumulating. If a smell does emerge, handlers can use a fabric freshener to neutralize pet odors.

To keep mud and dirt from getting into the seats and floors, wipe off the dog's paws with a hand towel or baby wipes before placing the animal in the car.

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Prepping for Resale

One of the best ways to prep a former K-9 unit vehicle for resale is to remove the seats for a thorough cleaning and replace the floor mats, said Bill Boss, supervisor of fleet management for the Marion County Sheriff's Department in Florida. In fact, handlers and fleet personnel also regularly remove an in-service unit's seats for cleaning a K-9 vehicle to better remove dog hairs and help get rid of odors.
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That is the best way to ensure you are cleaning the entire vehicle and (removing the seats) is not something we are going to do nearly as much for (non-K-9) fleet vehicles," Boss said.

Boss' staff runs an ozone machine for two or more hours to clean the vehicle and uses the highest-quality cleansers and vacuums. Handlers are also directed to help keep K9 vehicles cleaner on a more frequent basis. Any dog waste in the animals cage must be cleaned up immediately.

Limiting the dog's access to a vehicle by keeping K-9 officers in a cage while the vehicle is moving generally doesn't limit wear and tear, said Lt. Ric Hetu of the Michigan State Police. Hetu is located at the department's primary dog kennel in Lansing and has worked with numerous K9 officers over the years.

Grooming Reduces Time & Money Spent

Hetu recommends basic dog-grooming techniques to reduce the amount of time and money spent on reconditioning a vehicle. Placing high-end air fresheners in the vehicle can help, but they will not eliminate dog odors.

"The fact is that dogs, especially German Shepherds, shed, and those are the only (breed) of dogs we use at the State Police," Hetu said. "There is nothing we ask our handlers to do while they are working with a K-9 officer to prevent the amount of automotive detailing we may have to do down the line."

The presence of canine dander can also be a concern, one that can be "hidden" in vehicle ducts. Residual pet dander can adversely impact vehicle resale, especially if the buyer is allergic to pet dander.

"Dander is just another natural effect of having one or more dogs in your car," said James Akin-Otiko, owner and trainer for Narc K-9, a company with locations in Kentucky and Nebraska that train canine officers and their human partners.  

Beyond its allergy-inducing factors, the impact of dander is likely minimal, especially when a driver activates the vehicle's fans on high regularly. Dander will remain in the ducts, but a high percentage can get blown out.

Significant air movement can be used to help get rid of both dander and pet hair.

The vehicle's blower can be removed and cleaned or replaced if dander or hair in the ducts is a significant concern, said Akin-Otiko, noting that the process is more expensive than the effort calls for. "The duct could be disassembled and cleaned," he added.

Removing dander from vehicle carpets, upholstery, etc., is difficult. A product that neutralizes pet dander and mite allergens can prevent an allergic response to second-hand pet dander. It can be sprayed on carpets, upholstery, or anywhere dog dander may adhere.
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Remarketing Audience Can Determine Cleaning Effort

While it is important to clean a K-9 fleet vehicle after its service-life ends, if the vehicle isn't sold to a wide-scale audience, reconditioning efforts outside of a significant cleaning can be minimal.

In fact, many K-9 fleet vehicles are sold to officers or their families or used in another capacity following their removal from active fleet duty, Hetu said. The key action is to prevent and clean up any "bathroom" accidents immediately after they occur so the only issues are lingering dog odor and hair.

"There isn't much you can do about that even if you were to give your dog a bath every day," Hetu said with a laugh.

In short, reconditioning K-9 units doesn't take any "magic" solutions other than using the best cleaning equipment, doing so in a timely manner and remaining vigilant, Boss said. Rarely does a vehicle need reupholstering before resale, provided it was well maintained and floor mats are replaced.

"I have a very sensitive nose, so even after all those steps, I often can still smell that a dog has been in the vehicle," Boss said. "Fortunately, I don't think everyone has as sensitive of a nose as mine.

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