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Bullet-proof logic: Vests protect police dogs

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Of the 139 police dogs killed by guns in the line of duty in the last 40 years, 29 of those deaths were – euphemism alert! — due to “friendly fire.”

That’s according to statistics compiled by the Connecticut Police Work Dog Association, and cited in a Baltimore Sun article yesterday.

vestThe figures weren’t broken down into how many of those ”friendly fire” deaths were a result of dogs being caught up in the middle of a gunfight, as opposed to cases of mistaken identity — like the one that led to a Baltimore police dog being shot by an officer he jumped on during a pursuit this week.

But either way, even without adding in the number of injuries, the figures show society could be doing a better job of protecting its police dogs.

On top of the nationwide toll of friendly-fire deaths, and far more common, are police dogs being killed by suspects — as has happened 110 times (with guns) and 25 times (with knives).

So there are really two issues here. One, as evidenced by the case of Baltimore police dog Blade, is whether all police dogs should be distinctly marked as such, by virtue of a vest, collar or other means.

The other, larger one is whether police dogs (and the dogs of the FBI) should be outfitted — like their human counterparts — in bullet-proof vests, something that hasn’t been a priority with municipal officials in Baltimore and lots of other financially-strapped cities.

On the smaller issue, there is disagreement among experts. Some believe putting a dog in a vest for identification purposes, in addition to slowing that dog down, could lead to injuries as a result of the fabric getting snagged on fences and urban debris. Others believe that’s a small price to pay for something that might save the dog’s life, and that police dogs should be clearly marked as such.

Jim Cortina, director of the police dog association in Connecticut, and Russ Hess, director  of the U.S. Police Canine Association, told The Sun that outfitting police dogs in identification vests — while the policy of some departments — is not a widely accepted standard.

A Baltimore police spokesman said the department is  looking at using reflective collars for dogs, but even that might not have prevented the shooting of Blade, given the speed at which the incident played out.

While police departments aren’t tripping over each other to equip their dogs with vests — either for identification purposes, or protection — a few compassionate citizens have taken up the cause.

Six-year-old Kayleigh Crimmins sold her toys on Craigslist to raise money to buy bullet-proof vests for police dogs in Newport News, Virginia.

Then there’s Alyssa Mayorga in California — aka the “Penny Princess” — who started, at age 7 , picking pennies offf the street and now has her own website devoted to raising money to provide bullet-proof vests for police dogs. She has purchased around 30 of them for police departments in California, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Both little girls were motivated after hearing of cases in which police dogs died in the line of duty.

Children at St. Cloud Elementary School pooled their spare change to raise more than $1,000 in just two weeks to buy a bullet-proof vest for a police dog named Ajsa, who had visited the school earlier. While the town couldn’t come up with a way equip Ajsa with a $1,000 vest, students figured it right out, placing donation bags in homerooms and school offices and raising $1,173.61 in just two weeks, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s “Animal Crazy” blog. (Note to Baltimore schoolteachers: Need a class project?)

Some adults are helping out, too. In 2002, Susie Jean, then living in Georgia, saw a police dog killed on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.”  The next day, she called her local police department and asked if they had bullet-proof vests for their police dogs. They said no, they didn’t have the money for that. Jean made it her mission to raise some and, a few months later, supplied vests to all five of the department’s police dogs.

Jean went on to found Vest ‘N P.D.P., Inc., an organization that has provided 422 bullet-proof vests to police dogs in 39 states.

The rationale behind all those grass roots efforts — so simple that first-graders figure it out – doesn’t seem to have sunk in with a lot of government bureaucrats: Aren’t we obligated, given the dangerous situations we place them in, to provide a modicum of protection to those who are protecting and serving us, even if they’re dogs?

(Photos from EliteK9.com)

Comments

Comment from Donna Morgan
Time March 13, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I saw the same episode of America’s Most Wanted and started a non-profit here, WI Vest-A-Dog, Inc., in Wisconsin in 2005. To date, even with few volunteers, we have raised money to vest 117 dogs. I will keep going until every dog in Wisconsin Has a bullet/stab proof vest. We send these dogs to do jobs that are too dangerous for a human officer (who is vested) to do. They are police officers and should have the dame level of protection as their human partners.

Thank you for spreading the word!!!!

Comment from shane
Time August 23, 2012 at 11:38 am

wow i did not know that these dogs were
geting hurt and dieing like that i fell bad for there oners and the dog and the dep its hard to get money for protectcion for offcers so it a good thaing one dog vest comperaded to none it good but we as peolpe from the comutie need do better change 1 doller one doller or 3 doller from every person should be enough for these thangs but i proud of your commiment and for all them dogs that did get vest if dont know what it is when thay get in a switchatishion it will then lol safty for every thaing dog s have fellings to you just might not know it so i hope you keep raise ing money for these dog hopfulley we can get all 50 states and citties in on it its a lot of work but when i get money 3 dollers is going to the fair feild police dep in cincinnatti ohio 513 aer code this is shane h bye

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