How cops can protect their K-9 partners

Like their human counterparts, police K-9s can face great risks on the job


By Michele Coppola
Tech Beat Magazine

Like their human counterparts, police K-9s can face great risks on the job. The dogs sniff out suspects, explosives and drugs; track down missing persons; search buildings; chase down criminals; and protect their handlers. Their presence can be a deterrent to crime.

Depending on a canine’s duties, a handler can feel the need to provide a dog with protective gear. Desired features for protective vests for K-9 are similar to those of their handlers: comfort, proper fit, ease of movement, breathability and manageable weight. Coverage can include a dog’s vital organs, back, spine and chest. The cost of a vest can vary depending on quality, material, protection level and weight.

According to data extracted from information provided by the United States Police Canine Association, in the U.S., five K-9s died from hostile gunfire in 2013 and one from stab wounds. As of July 2014, five more died from hostile gunfire and one from stab wounds. Other causes of K-9 line-of-duty deaths included vehicle crashes.

Often, law enforcement agencies don’t have funds to purchase protective gear for their canine members. Sources of financing can include fundraising drives, grants, and donations from organizations and private citizens.

Police officers seeking protective vests for their K-9 partners at no cost can find help with the click of a computer mouse. An online search can produce a number of groups that can help, some founded by police officers and others by private citizens. Two examples of organizations that facilitate obtaining protective vests for police dogs are Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. and the Capital K-9 Association.

Vested Interest In K9s, Inc.
Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. is a nonprofit fundraising organization that donates protective vests for police dogs across the United States. Through a network of volunteers, officers seeking vests for their K-9 partners are paired with corporate or private sponsors that pay for the protective gear, each of which cost $950. The organization provides vests the manufacturer says provide stab and ballistic protection.

The organization, located in East Taunton, Mass., was incorporated in 2009 as a 501(c)(3) charity. The group’s founder and president, Sandy Marcal, is a self-described longtime animal lover devoted fulltime to the organization.

“No one is in law enforcement in my family, I just happen to love animals,” says Marcal, who began working as a volunteer to benefit police dogs in 2000, then formed the organization to help raise money for vests. Initially focused on police dogs in Massachusetts, the organization now provides K-9 vests to agencies nationwide.

“Donations come from either corporations or private sponsors,” Marcal says. “People feel very strongly. They just want to help. They contact us about fundraising or making a donation. We have over 100 volunteers across the U.S. who locate dogs needing vests. We help to match up the need for a vest with a sponsor in an area.”

Since 2009, the organization has provided more than 1,000 vests to agencies. The organization will advise interested groups or individuals on how to go about fundraising.

Officers interested in obtaining a K-9 vest first need to fill out online paperwork on the organization’s website, to establish if they meet the following three criteria: the K-9 must be actively employed in the United States, certified, and at least 19 months old. Marcal explained that 19 months is when a dog is considered fully grown. The vests are made to order, so a dog must be finished growing before a vest is fitted.

If they meet the criteria, the officer is given an application to fill out. Receipt of a vest is dependent on completion of the application and available funding. The application does not guarantee a K-9 vest will be awarded. If a K-9 currently has a vest, an application may be submitted once the vest is out of date. To date, all applicants with qualifying K-9s have been provided with a vest.

When Ptl. Brian Berdine of the Johnson City Police Department in New York needed a protective vest for his 8-year-old K-9 partner C.J., he turned to Vested Interest in K9s after doing some research.

“From the time I inquired to the time I was told I was going to get a vest was only about one week,” Berdine says. “It was a very quick turnaround time.”

Delivery of the vest took about six weeks because the vest was custom fitted. C.J., a Dutch Shepherd, began wearing his vest in March 2013. Berdine has also assisted other law enforcement agencies obtain vests for their K-9s.

“The dogs are the frontline and will come in close contact with whatever we come across,” Berdine says. “The vests can also be helpful in tracking missions. My dog was going through a brush pile and the vest protected him from sticks and other things. It’s great all-around protection for dogs.”

To learn more about the vest program, go to http://www.vik9s.org/ or contact Sandy Marcal at (508) 824-6978.

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