North Huntingdon police dogs to wear donated Kevlar vests
In the darkness before daybreak, German shepherd Vegas had his nose to the ground to track an armed suspect accused of shooting at a North Huntingdon police officer.
The suspect moved in circles and ducked behind thick vegetation but could not elude the North Huntingdon police dog.
After years of performing tracking and confronting gun-wielding suspects, protective Kevlar vests have been donated to the dogs at North Huntingdon police department.
Three police dogs — Colt, Nero and Vegas — will wear the vests while tracking and performing drug investigations.
“It's a peace of mind,” Sgt. Kari Bauer, a dog handler with the department, said. “We have to send our dogs in. The vest is just going to be a peace of mind.”
The vests, donated by Vested Interest in K-9s Inc., based in Massachusetts, have advanced technology to protect dogs from bullets, stabbings and blunt-force trauma. The nonprofit group gets the vests at a discounted rate of $950 instead of the typical rate of about $2,100, and donates them to police dogs.
“They're the first one sent in the line of duty, and they're in harm's way,” said Sandy Marcal, founder of Vested Interest in K-9s. “They need the same protection as their human officers.”
North Huntington's police-dog unit was re-established in 1991 after a brief hiatus, Bauer said. The dogs have gone without vests since 1992.
Among other pieces of equipment, the dogs have tracking harnesses used to lead handlers during searches and basket muzzles to learn how to fight without their mouths.
The dogs were given Kevlar booties for protection from shards of glass and broken metal when they were called to assist with rescue efforts at the World Trade Center in 2001, Bauer said.
Handlers and their dogs are called to track lost people and sniff out hidden drugs. Because the dogs' sense of smell has capabilities beyond a human's, the dogs have helped the department find bags of drugs covertly hidden in cars and homes, Bauer said.
“We've definitely got a ton more arrests with a K-9,” she said. “It's a huge asset in drug work.”
Although handlers never would send dogs into a situation deemed too dangerous, Bauer said, they should be prepared to make the dogs first responders.
“If there's a bad guy in a building with a gun, you're never going to send your dog in there, you're going to send SWAT,” she said. “But sometimes we don't know, and we have to send our dogs in.”
Since Vested Interest was incorporated in 2009, it has donated more than 450 vests to dogs across the country.
Four departments in Pennsylvania, including North Huntingdon, have been recipients.
“We think every dog, no matter what they're doing in law enforcement, needs a vest,” Marcal said. “Even a bomb dog. Depending on where the dog is when that happens, shrapnel could be a concern. If they're in a certain proximity, the vest can help.”
Amanda Dolasinski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.