MENDON — Police officers routinely get bullet-resistant vests once they join a department. But when a new K-9 comes aboard, such vests are often viewed as an extra cost and handlers have to raise money to buy them for their four-legged partners.
Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog, based in Mendon, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has worked for more than 20 years to get as many dogs protected by the vests as possible.
Since Kathy Hinds founded the organization in 2000, it has given more than 700 vests to police dogs throughout Massachusetts, organization President David Shilale said. In its first eight years of existence, the organization was a division of the Barnstable Police Association.
Originally inspired by the death of Cero — an Ohio police dog who was shot and killed in the line of duty — Hinds founded the organization because she did not want that to happen to other police dogs, especially locally.
The death of Massachusetts State Police dog Frankie, who was shot and killed last month by a man in Fitchburg, is an unfortunate example of vests not being full-proof, but the vests do offer the same level of protection as a bullet-resistant vests meant for humans.
"It was very sad what happened to Frankie," said Shilale. "A handful of our folks were close to him and his handler, so it definitely hit home."
There are different types of vests for dogs — the average police dog vest offers more protection than one that a dog on a SWAT team may wear, as the SWAT dog may need more mobility. There are also vests that are designed for special purposes, such as rappelling, Shilale said.
But generally, a police dog vest will cover the animal's chest, abdomen, sides and back. It offers protection from gunshots, stabbing injuries and even blunt force attacks.
"They're very comparable to what humans wear," said Shilale. "They're lightweight, but very strong, and it's the same material. They're true ballistic vests."
They aren't cheap. A typical K-9 vest costs $3,500.
To help with costs, Vest-a-Dog regularly holds fundraisers. The most successful are the sale of calendars which feature dogs from police departments statewide. The 2022 edition features Hudson's Jocko (who got his vest from another organization, Vested Interest) and Milford's Kodak and Titan (the latter of whom was with Hopkinton police at the time).
Locally, most police dogs have vests. Exceptions include community service dogs, such as Hudson's Murf and Franklin's Ben Franklin, as they do not interact with potential suspects.
Although Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog started as a provider of vests, it has since expanded. It now offers grants that help outfit police cruisers to accommodate a dog; provides heat alarms so that officers know whether their cruisers are too hot for a dog; and even "bite suits" that are used in training.
Police officers and others in law enforcement can apply for grants twice a year to obtain equipment other than vests. But vests are available year-round, Shilale said.
"If someone needs a vest, they can go to our website, notify us and we'll work with getting the dog in for measurements and get them a vest," he said.
On occasion, regular citizens have run fundraisers. The money raised can be donated to Vest-a-Dog, and earmarked specifically for a dog in their community, Shilale said.
All fundraising options, as well as instructions on how to request equipment, are on the organization's website at https://mavestadog.org/vests/.
"It's amazing how many people want to support this," said Shilale. "People just love dogs."
Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or email@example.com. For up-to-date public safety news, follow Norman Miller on Twitter @Norman_MillerMW or on Facebook at facebook.com/NormanMillerCrime.
This article originally appeared on The Milford Daily News: Mendon nonprofit MA vest-a-dog supplies K-9 vests, here's how it works