A troubling number of police dogs have died so far this year in overheated vehicles, often as a result of forgetful handlers or malfunctioning air conditioning units, an animal rights group has found.

At least a dozen working canines have perished of heat-related conditions so far, the most since People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) started tracking the incidents in 2012.

The excruciating deaths are prompting outrage among animal rights activists and law enforcement officials who have invested thousands of dollars in public funds in canine acquisition and training. The grim numbers long have loomed in the background as authorities grapple with even more profound losses of children in similar incidents. So far, 35 children have died in hot cars this year, compared with 24 in all of 2014, according to the National Safety Council.

Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president for cruelty investigations, said the group’s tally of casualties, drawn from a search of law enforcement documents and media accounts, likely significantly underestimates all such deaths because a national repository of death or injury reports does not exist for the hundreds of thousands of working dogs assigned to law enforcement, military and public safety agencies. The 12 deaths recorded so far this year are up from nine in all of 2015; seven in 2014; six in 2013; and seven in 2012.

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