5 Questions With… Jesyka Melcher Morrison, DVM, caregiver for the Moses Lake Police Department’s K9 unit

Last February, Dr. Morrison saved the life of K9 Chief after the dog was shot in the eye while on duty

Jesyka Melcher Morrison, DVM, and Chief, a K9 officer with the Moses Lake Police Department in Washington. Photos ©Heather Lynn Photography
Jesyka Melcher Morrison, DVM, and Chief, a K9 officer with the Moses Lake Police Department in Washington.
Photos ©Heather Lynn Photography

When it comes to administrating care to critically injured patients, Jesyka Melcher Morrison, DVM, says it’s imperative to remain cool under pressure.

Indeed, Dr. Morrison attributes her calm disposition and ability to quickly assess an emergency situation as two factors that helped save the life of one of Moses Lake Police Department’s finest this past February.

Morrison, an alumnus of Washington State University (WSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, has been practicing at Pioneer Veterinary Clinic in Moses Lake, Wash., since 2006. She became acquainted with her local police K9 program at its inception in 2018, and has been looking after Moses Lake Police Department’s K9 officers, Chief and Rex, ever since. Prior to that, Morrison also cared for four K9 officers in Grant County, Wash.

However, she says no amount of experience could ready her for the call she received on the evening of Feb. 28.

“When I’m at work or on-call, I tend to be somewhat mentally prepared for most situations,” Morrison says. “But I was at home, relaxing with my family, when I got the call Chief had been shot.”

K9 officer Chief had taken a bullet for his handler, Officer Nick Stewart. The animal had been shot in the eye and the situation was critical. Fortunately, Morrison’s quickness to action and expertise saved Chief’s life that night. He has since retired from duty.

Veterinary Practice News caught up with Morrison to learn more about her experience triaging Chief and what it’s like to work with this unique group of animals.

1) How did you get involved with the Moses Lake Police Department canine unit?

In 2018, my daughter, who was nine at the time, sold “slime” at our local farmer’s market in support of the department’s canine fund, and that was my introduction. She ultimately raised and donated more than $20,000.

I’ve also participated in numerous “citizen ride-alongs” with the department. Through the program, I spent some time with Chief and Officer Stewart. That personal relationship certainly intensified the situation on the night of the shooting.

2) What was the extent of Chief’s injuries and how did you go about treating them?

After receiving the initial phone call from the Moses Lake Police Department Captain Mike Williams, I headed straight to Pioneer Veterinary Clinic and called for assistance.

Chief’s left eye was removed after the K9 officer took a bullet for his handler, Officer Nick Stewart.
Chief’s left eye was removed after the K9 officer took a bullet for his handler, Officer Nick Stewart.

Adrienne Hernandez, LVT, and Jennifer Brown, DVM, met me at the clinic. Upon arrival, I found Chief’s handler, Officer Stewart, in the back of his cruiser, holding pressure on the dog’s eye. There was blood everywhere.

Chief was carried into the clinic. I could see immediately his injuries required more extensive care than I could provide and I informed the officers Chief needed to be transferred to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital right away. We applied a pressure wrap to his eye, gave him hydromorphone for pain, placed an IV catheter, and started fluids. After several phone calls, the Multi Agency Communications Center (MACC) informed us Life Flight, an air ambulance service, had agreed to transport Chief on a fixed-wing aircraft.

For, me, there was no question: I would aid in the transport. Because the shooting was under investigation, Officer Stewart was not allowed to go with us. His friend and colleague, Officer Brad Zook, who is also a K9 handler, agreed to accompany me.  I packed the supplies I needed in case Chief was to crash during transport, and we loaded him into the back of the police car and drove to the airport.

Initial reports stated Life Flight was only 20 minutes away—however, delays turned those 20 minutes into a helpless 45-minute wait on a dark, empty tarmac, during which I was trying my best to keep my unstable patient alive and praying for every breath. Finally, Life Flight arrived and Chief was loaded and in the air within just a few minutes.

Mid-flight, Chief began to decompensate and become more agitated. I administered another dose of hydromorphone to calm him. His throat swelled and his heart rate dropped into the low 40s. At this point, I was unsure Chief would survive the 20-minute flight.

Fortunately, he stayed with us. We landed at Pullman-Moscow Airport, where Chief was transferred to a waiting ambulance, and then we were on our way to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman, Wash. The final five minutes of the ambulance ride were agonizing, as I feared Chief would go into cardiac arrest at any moment. When we finally arrived and the ambulance doors opened to WSU’s veterinary team, I sank back in my seat with relief.

At the hospital, Chief was whisked away to be worked on. Officer Zook and I were escorted to the lobby, where we waited and sat in shock, thinking about the events that had just taken place. A few hours later, Officer Stewart arrived, along with several other officers from Moses Lake Police Department.

After waiting in the lobby for nine hours and receiving a thorough update from the WSU veterinary team, we decided to make the two-hour trip back home. I arrived around 1 p.m. I was sleep-deprived and still trying to process the events of the previous evening. The adrenaline letdown was as equally intense as the rush.

I spent the next 24 hours crying—I questioned every treatment choice I made and analyzed what I could have done better. I attended an agency debriefing, which helped immensely. Speaking with others involved in that night’s events and hearing they experienced similar emotions felt very comforting.

In the end, Chief lost his left eye and his jaw was broken—but he survived.

3) How important is the human-animal bond between service dogs and their handlers when it comes to police work and treating these animals?

Officers Brad Zook and Nick Stewart with Chief and Dr. Morrison.
Officers Brad Zook and Nick Stewart with Chief and Dr. Morrison.

The connection between a working dog and their handler is a bond like no other. The relationship is built on love, trust, and a thorough knowledge of the work expected of both.

There is no doubt the bullet Chief took that night saved his handler’s life—and knowing this intensified the situation even more. I cannot put into words the emotions I experienced seeing Officer Stewart sobbing over his injured canine partner.

4) Based on your experience, what is the most important quality a veterinarian needs to have to be able to handle emergency situations?

You have to be able to stay calm during a traumatic event and recognize your limitations. In this case, I was able to assess immediately that Chief required care beyond my expertise, but I kept calm and triaged him to the best of my ability.

5) What is the most fulfilling part about being able to treat police dogs?

Seeing the bond working dogs have with their handlers is incredibly rewarding. Likewise, it’s fulfilling to know that by treating these dogs and keeping them healthy, I play a small role in helping our community stay safe.

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