Some first aid classes show police officers how to do minor surgery and put in IV catheters. McNamara doesn't think that's very realistic. He doesn't teach handlers to be paramedics or veterinarians. A handler likely will never have to do minor surgery, and to do something like that well, requires practice, he says. McNamara would rather have handlers use the time to transport their canine to a good veterinary facility.
Not all vets know what to do when a police dog gets injured.
"Many vets don't truly appreciate the difference between a working dog and a regular pet," he says.
Police dogs can get into things that other pets typically don't. A narcotic detector dog could come into contact with illicit drugs, and it's uncommon for a veterinarian to be trained in how to deal with illicit drugs.
"Also, most vets don't deal with gunshots or stabbings," says McNamara, who also served on an emergency working group with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that looked at anthrax exposure for service canines.
More and more veterinarians are offering first aid training, says McNamara, who is a member of USPCA and NAPWDA. He advises a good trainer should have a familiarity with law enforcement canine, stay contemporary and have the desire to share knowledge.
McNamara does not charge for his class.
"My biggest concern is that there would be a handler out there that has a problem with his dog but he wasn't able to render aid because he wasn't trained, because he couldn't afford the class."
His first aid class is offered on an as-needed basis. A busy small animal surgeon in a busy practice, he does the classes in his off time, and often for larger groups or associations.
"I'm amazed that this little thing I created 10 years ago to basically help a friend has become a really great thing," he says. "I'm so proud of my little nonprofit because it's been able to positively impact so many people."
When McNamara became a vet, he wanted to have the opportunity to have a child come up to him and say, "Thanks for saving my dog's life."
And while that has happened, he's also had police officers come up to him and say, "Because of what you taught me, my partner's alive today." That, he says, is the most awesome compliment he's ever been given.
Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer and editor specializing in law enforcement topics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.