Police dogs risk their lives on the job everyday and need some of the same equipment their human counterparts have, but often times the funds aren't there to protect them.
One organization is out to change that and has made a lot of headway in a short amount of time.
In less than four years, Vested Interest in K-9s, Inc. has provided more than 400 bullet and stab protective vests for law enforcement dogs throughout the country. The group's founder, Sandy Marcal, spoke to Officer.com about the group's success and the road ahead.
"It's a huge undertaking but it's very fulfilling," she said. "We're happy to be able to do this for the dogs that serve their communities and their partners. They deserve it."
Before starting the non-profit group in August of 2009, Marcal began working as a volunteer in 2000 with law enforcement agencies in her home state of Massachusetts to help bring awareness to the need of vests for police dogs.
"In most cases, the law enforcement agencies don't have the budget to provide (the vests)," she said, noting that she decided having a group with non-profit status would make many other opportunities available. "Since then it really has expanded for us many horizons that have allowed us to help many dogs."
The contributions made to Vested Interest in K-9s are donations and there is no cost to agencies for the protective vests, which costs around $1,000 each and last for about five years. "We anticipate that most dogs in their career are going to need two vests, because sometimes they work up to 10 or 11 years old," Marcal said.
During the group's first year, it focused on dogs within the state, but soon found the need to expand its reach.
"We had been so successful that most of the dogs in Massachusetts had vests," she said. "We decided that there are dogs everywhere that need this body armor."
So far, Marcal estimates that the group has provided protective vests to police dogs in 35 states. The group seeks out departments in need of vest through a continuously growing network of volunteers that find and recruit dogs for the program.
"We're very active in the community where we are located, but we also have volunteers across the country that host events on our behalf, bring awareness to the group and help find more dogs that need vests," she said. "We rely on folks all over the country to help us with our mission."
As the organization has grown, Marcal said that the distribution of the vests has luckily been manageable so far. "That's been a smooth process for us; it's kind of like a well-oiled machine," she said.
The vests are manufactured by Armor Express in Michigan and are custom sized to provide maximum coverage and mobility. A local distributor in Massachusetts takes care of the orders for the group, which has allowed the group's volunteers to focus on fundraising and recruiting more dogs.
Vested Interest in K-9s has also garnered support of corporate sponsors, most recently entering into a year-long partnership with PetArmor, which manufactures flea and tick medication for dogs.
The company's initial donation will send vests to police dogs in Austin, Texas, Jupiter, Fla. and Riviera Beach, Fla.
"Without companies like PetArmor, we would not be able to do this. Corporate sponsors have the means, the resource and the media to make this effective and to really send out the message," Marcal said. "We're very thankful, obviously that they chose our charity, and for the fact that they realize the importance of the work that these dogs do and that they need this protection."