Thursday, July 16, 2009

K-9 Police Dogs Fundraiser

Rooting out burglars and killers in hiding, searching for explosives and narcotics, catching thieves on the run and accompanying SWAT team invasions are just some of the daily life-threatening situations that police dog handlers and their canine partners face.

But now police dog handlers around the Bay Area are also facing an increased risk of losing their canine partners because of a shortage of bullet-proof vests for their dogs.

The loss of a four-legged partner to an officer is traumatic.

'I'd be devastated. He's like one of my kids,' said Michelle, Police Officer and dog handler of Draco, a three-year-old Belgian Shepherd dog.

Draco has been her partner for one-and-a-half years. They, along with fellow officer and dog handler, Andrew, and his canine partner, Maggi, were in the Pet Food Express store in Market Street this afternoon as part of a desperate fundraising exercise.

At the moment, San Francisco has funded a vest for every one of its dogs but in the Bay Area overall only between 40 and 50 per cent of working dogs have one.

The fundraising effort is in partnership with the police charity, K-9 Armor. Their goal is to raise 50k-100k to ensure every dog has a vest and to give financial help to retired officers who continue to care for their dogs.

Today Pet Food Express were donating all of the money from customers in their 34 stores who purchased dog-washing tokens. Only in four specially selected stores were police officers and dogs there to meet customers.

'I think the vests are awesome. I think he would be at greater risk without one,' said Michelle.

'The vests,' she explained, 'cover about three-quarters of their body and they can't wear them 24 hours a day. On a ten-hour shift they're mostly used for high-risk situations. If we left the dogs in their vest for the whole time, they get hot, the vests are bulky.'

The officers therefore try to determine the type of call to limit the use of vests.

'If we know that we're going to a high-risk call with a gun or a knife, or any other kind of impact weapon, we'll put the vest on beforehand. Most of the time we're on the street and we don't know what we're getting into,' she said.

Draco has been in quite a few dangerous situations.

'We had a guy in a stolen vehicle run from us, and we were able to take him into custody with a bite. We had a burglar in a commercial building that Draco was able to find and arrest, and we also do high-risk building entries with the SWAT team,' Michelle said.

Similarly, Andrew, handler of Maggi, a Belgian Malinois who is just over five-years-old, said if anything happened to her, 'It would be upsetting. It's like losing a really close member of the family. These dogs go home with us.'

Maggi's most dangerous moments, he said, were when 'she's searched on occasion for a robber, armed suspects. She cleared a house just last night for a homicide suspect and routinely looks for burglary suspects on a daily and weekly basis.'

Vests, according to a press release put out by Pet Food Express, cost $1,200. But this is far less than the cost of replacing a dog. The cost of a dog varies, said Michelle, depending on how much training it has had before it is bought.

A dog like Maggi, who was already trained in bomb disposal and explosives would cost between $7,000 and £10,000. Dogs like Draco, who did her obedience and specialist narcotic training with her unit, cost around $4,000 to $5,000.

Protecting their life means everything to Michelle and Andrew and fellow dog handlers. It's not simply a question of cost and retraining, it's the emotional side of rebonding.

'They're lifelong partners, they're like members of your family,' Michelle reiterated. To lose your dog, 'it's devastating.'


K9 ARMOR - Fundraising by Suzanne Saunders

Fundraising has been coorganized by Suzanne Saunders, one of the voluntary founders of K-9 Armor. Suzanne has been working for five years to help support police dogs and was upbeat about the day.

'We're sure going to make a lot of progress today,' she said. Although the Pet Food Express press release gives the cost of a vest as $1,200, one of the achievements of Suzanne's work has been to link with a company and secure them at a reduced cost of $750.

She pointed out that even if they supplied every dog today with a vest, the need will still be there for dogs in the future. The good news, however, is that Pet Food Express are starting to make this an annual fundraising event.

An interview with Suzanne, whose charity partner and president is Deputy Daniel Marrett of Marin County Sheriff's Department, is in the video.

For info and to be able to donate:

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