Group seeks public’s help to outfit 12 Southern Utah police dogs with bulletproof vests

ST. GEORGE — Like their human counterparts, police K-9s can face enormous risks on the job, so protecting these four-legged crime fighters is the mission of one nonprofit organization committed to providing a dozen vests to K-9s officers.

Washington City Police K-9 Hunter who served the department from 2011-2016, Washington County, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Vesting American Police K-9 Officers, St. George News

To address the dangers these crime-fighting animals face, Vesting American Police K-9 Officers is raising funds to purchase vests that are lightweight and protect against cuts, stabbing and slashing and that also has a cooling layer to keep the dog comfortable – particularly important in Southern Utah where triple-digit temperatures are common.

Vesting American Police K-9 Officers, a subsidiary of Tread Armament, launched in 2015 and has since provided over 120 bulletproof vests for K-9 officers across the country. The Washington County-based nonprofit was the first to provide vests to the many furry crime fighters working throughout Southern Utah and northern Arizona, including a 2015 donation to Officer Tank, Washington City Police Department’s “K-9 with a million ‘likes.’

Tank became an internet sensation when his picture went viral on social media, hitting 1 million “likes” on Facebook in less than 48 hours.

Cathy Williams, founder of Vesting America’s K-9s, said police K-9s need “the highest level of protection while they are out there protecting us.” There were 39 police K-9s killed in the line of duty last year, she said, and five killed so far this year.

Washington County hasn’t been immune to injured K-9s. In 2017, Washington County Sheriff’s K-9 Deputy Tess was shot twice during the apprehension of a carjacking suspect in Santa Clara.  The dog sustained two gunshot wounds to the face and was flown to a specialist in Las Vegas to undergo treatment.

In this 2017 file photo Washington County Sheriff’s K-9 Tess was transported via LifeFlight to a specialty veterinarian’s clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada, Aug. 30, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

During a press conference held the day of the shooting, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher stated: “Tess took a bullet last night, rather than an officer.”

Tess was equipped with a vest at the time, but unfortunately, Williams said, the bullets entered the animal’s facial area and thankfully, the dog survived but ultimately had to retire five years sooner than she should have.

Vesting American Police K-9 Officers recently launched a new fundraising effort to provide vests to a dozen K-9s working in the region that might not be as lucky as Tess.

These thin and flexible vests are designed to move with the dogs so as not to  interfere with the animal’s ability to move freely, while still protecting the K9’s vital organs. They are one of the lightest vests on the market, Williams said.

The vest is also equipped with two reflective patches for visibility and an inner layer of fabric to prevent excessive heat soaking and helps to regulate the animal’s body temperature to keep them cool.

The new fundraising campaign is dedicated to another local K-9 officer, Hunter. The dog served with Washington City Police Officer Josh Finona for more than five years and was the agency’s first police K-9. Hunter specialized in narcotics detection and apprehension until his retired in 2016, but he remained with his handler until his death a few months later. The dog is listed on “Memorials to Fallen K-9s.” 

Finona wrote of his partner, “Hunter, you were my partner, my best friend by far, and now you are my guardian angel.”

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Officer with K-9 Officer Carlo, one of 12 K-9s needing a protective vest, Iron County, Utah, Dec. 23, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Vesting American Police K-9 Officers, St. George News

One K-9 that is in line for a vest is Carlo, a 5-year-old male chocolate Labrador that serves alongside Officer Josh Carver with the Utah Division of Wildlife. Carver covers both Washington and Iron counties.

The dog was assigned to Carver in 2019 after the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources K-9 program was revitalized. Two K-9’s had completed training in Patoka Lake, Indiana, and were assigned to Carver and another wildlife officer.

The 9-week training course was put on by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the dogs were trained to track people and wildlife, as well as do article searches to find specific items such as clothing, keys and cellphones.

While the dogs are primarily used in helping to solve wildlife-related crimes, like trespassing and poaching cases, they will also assist other law enforcement agencies across the region.

“I worked many cases in my career where a K-9 would have made a huge difference,” Carver said in a 2019 interview for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources News. “I know that having a K-9 is a huge asset to not only our agency and the hunting community, but also other agencies and the general public.”

‘Absolutely nothing to protect them’

Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Montgomery and K-9 Officer Cyrus, one of 12 K-9s needing a protective vest, Washington County, Utah, Dec. 23, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Vesting American Police K-9 Officers, St. George News

Dogs have a rich history of working with law enforcement and military units dating back to the 1800s. The specific training they receive and their natural abilities enable them to assist law enforcement in ways no other human would be capable of.

They have a sense of smell that is 100,000 times stronger than their human counterparts, which is why these four-legged lawmen are sent into buildings to search for explosives, find missing persons or sniff for narcotics in ways humans cannot.

As such, these animals play a vital role in police operations and can outperform their human counterparts in a variety of functions.

Williams said these animals are sent into the same dangerous situations as their human partners, but the difference is they are doing so “with absolutely nothing to protect them if the situation turns bad.”

The cost for each vest is  $475, which includes the discount provided by the manufacturer in Boston, Massachusetts, that is charging just above the cost to make them. Vesting American Police K-9 Officers is hoping to fund enough jackets for 12 animals.

Any additional funds will be held in an account so that any future K-9s hired can be vested immediately, Williams said.

For more information or to donate, email [email protected] or visit the group’s Facebook page.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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