Body armor sought to protect police dogs

SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE (SOUTH BEND, IND.) -- They serve and protect. They stick their noses in dangerous places. They risk being severely injured or even killed in the line of duty. "It just makes sense the dogs go in protected themselves," said Cpl. Steve Noonan of the South Bend Police Department's K-9 division. A fund-raising effort based in the South Bend Animal Clinic is under way to purchase body armor for the 11 dogs that work in the St. Joseph County Police Department, the South Bend Police Department and the Mishawaka Police Department. Noonan knows well that the dangers the dogs face are real. On May 11, 1999, Noonan accidentally shot his dog, Loki, as he and the 5-year-old German shepherd were attempting to arrest an auto theft suspect. The suspect they had chased was hiding inside a tool shed. As Noonan opened the door, the suspect pushed the door open, causing Noonan to lose his balance. His gun went off as he fell to the ground and the bullet struck Loki in the right shoulder. Loki survived and was back on the job in about two weeks, but the bullet that remains lodged near his shoulder serves as a reminder of the dangers dogs face. Noonan said the loss of one of the dogs would have a substantial impact both financially and emotionally. He said it takes thousands of dollars and about a year of training to prepare a dog for work in law enforcement. "And there's definitely an emotional attachment with the handlers," Noonan said, noting that the handlers live with their dogs as well as work with them. He said outfitting the dogs with body-armor vests would be very beneficial. Jeff Buchs of the South Bend Animal Clinic was one of the veterinarians who helped treat Loki after he was shot. He said even though the bullet did not come into contact with any vital organs, a body-armor vest would have further reduced the severity of the injury. If enough money is raised, the vests would be purchased through the Vest-A-Dog Foundation based in Oceanside, Calif. The vests, made by the International Armor Corp. of San Clemente, Calif., cost $650 each and are designed to provide protection against bullets and knives, but can also help prevent injuries from sharp objects, broken glass and other debris the dogs often find themselves in during the course of their work. Of the $7,150 needed to suit up the seven dogs in the South Bend department, three in the county department and one in Mishawaka, only $150 has been raised so far. Donations can also be sent to the South Bend Animal Clinic, 3224 Lincoln Way W. South Bend, IN 46628. Checks may be made payable to the South Bend Animal Clinic or to the South Bend Police Department.

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