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Bullet-Proof Vests Keep Dogs Safe in the Line of Duty

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Some police dogs are now sporting bullet-proof vests, just like their human counterparts. Moved by the news of a New Jersey police dog named Solo shot in the line of duty, Stephanie Taylor, a then 11-year-old California girl, thought something needed to be done to protect these animals who put their lives at risk.

Her mom, Kathleen Ryan, had been an executive with International Armor Corp., which added a line of K-9 One Vest protective vests to its body armor products about 20 years ago. Ryan (no longer with the armor company) and Taylor started raising funds to buy vests for a half dozen police dogs in Oceanside, Calif.

The idea spread and went national, resulting in the formation of the Vest-A-Dog Network, which helps organize local nonprofit groups to raise funds to buy vests that protect police dogs, bomb squad dogs and military dogs from bullets and stab wounds.

Facing great risks

According to Tony Fortier, who runs the Vest-A-Dog Network, the organization outfits between 800 and 1,000 dogs a year. He said police dogs face significant risks doing their jobs: "A K9 officer faces the same, if not greater, risk than a human officer, as they are often sent in ahead of their human counterparts to apprehend suspects or investigate dangerous situations.''

Larger agencies often get grants to purchase vests from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but smaller municipal and county police agencies often do not have budgets to purchase vests, according to Fortier. He said vests are obtained for agencies that can't afford vests at a 30 percent discount. The typical wholesale cost is $625 for a standard vest to protect against bullets and $825 for a vest to protect against knives and other stabbing weapons.

Though he also works as the director of operations for International Armor, Fortier says the funds raised also can be used to buy vests from several competing manufacturers.

"We're out there to help, not to push our own product,'' he said. "If somebody wants to go through another company, that's fine. The program is about getting dogs vested.''

Vests save lives

Fortier said there have been documented cases in New York and Washington states in which the vests have saved the lives of police dogs, and that knives and other sharp weapons are the biggest threat to dogs, rather than bullets. "(But) the knife issue doesn't get reported as much,'' he said.

Some affiliated groups that raise funds to buy the vests include Kevlar for K9s in Denver, Illinois Vest-A-Dog, and Associated Humane Societies. The organizations often work with other community groups, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to raise funds to buy vests.

The main Web site lists several groups, along with information on the vests and how to organize a group.

"If someone contacts us and wants to raise money, we'll help facilitate or give them ideas on how to go about it,'' Fortier said. "We'll place them in contact with some of the nonprofit groups to help them raise the money appropriately, so that it's done correctly.''

Credit: Reveiwed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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