Peyton’s K9s raises over $11,000 for K9 units across the country
Peyton Estochin already knows what she wants to be when she grows up — a K-9 handler for a police department.
The 7-year-old McKeesport resident is already well on her way to making that dream a reality.
Peyton’s K-9s, a nonprofit organization founded in 2018, has 1,445 likes on Facebook and has raised more than $11,000, given to police departments across the country in the form of protective vests, goggles, paid-in-full veterinary bills and training and handler expenses.
Initially wanting to raise money for Farkle, the McKeesport Police Department’s K-9 who was diagnosed with oral melanoma last August, Estochin decided she wanted to have a sweet tea stand in Renzie Park — a decision that would lead her to raise more than $700 for Farkle.
“I didn’t know either of the stands was going to get that busy,” Estochin said, referring to her second event, a hot chocolate stand where she raised $2,400. “Almost over 100 people came.”
At the hot chocolate stand, Estochin offered baked goods and rolled out her first set of T-shirts with the help of her parents Jessica, 30, and Sonny, 43.
After that, word spread about Estochin and her fundraiser, and Jessica and Sonny Estochin started receiving calls from Joe Lutkowski, organizer of Blueline K-9 Training, a conference held in Pittsburgh where active police K-9 handlers teach classes to other handlers.
“They had 350 attendees, so that was huge,” Jessica Estochin said. “People were from Florida, from Georgia, from Massachusetts, from New York. There was just so many people from all over that they were like, ‘Oh my gosh, here’s Peyton and here’s what she’s trying to do and she donates it back.’ ”
During the conference, the family found out they were chosen as a vendor for the North America Police Working Dog Association, which is attended by master trainers.
Peyton’s K-9s took off after that, with police departments from across the country expressing interest in the organization.
“The K-9 handling industry is so tight-knit,” Jessica Estochin said. “There’s only so many out there. Some don’t have K-9 units at all, some only have one or two dogs, some have eight. After that, the ball just kind of kept rolling.”
Open to communities across the United States, interested departments can fill out an online form at peytonsk9s.org where they can request equipment needed or any costs that need to be covered for the K-9 unit.
So far, Jessica Estochin said the organization has helped purchase cooling and ballistic vests and Rex Specs, or protective eyewear for dogs. And in early July, a police department in Richmond Heights, Ohio, asked the family to help fund a new K-9 for a department — a task that can cost up to $15,000, including training for the dog.
In addition to the McKeesport Police Department, Peyton Estochin has donated a bite sleeve to the Clairton Police Department’s K-9, Bear.
Starting Peyton’s K-9s
Today, Peyton’s K-9s sells T-shirts, bracelets, hoodies and keychains to raise money for police dogs. It sells a red line keychain to benefit dogs working for fire companies.
But learning about what K-9s need, and the process of starting a nonprofit, was a learning curve for Jessica and Sonny Estochin.
“It’s definitely been learn-as-we-go, and we’re constantly meeting new people that tell us different things that help us help different units,” Sonny Estochin said.
Having family members who formerly worked in the police force, Jessica Estochin said she understands how high a veterinary bill can be, but she did not realize that some departments do not have a funded K-9 unit. Instead, they have to host fundraisers to purchase equipment and training.
Locally, the North Huntingdon Police Department has a funded K-9 unit.
And Peyton’s K-9s became a nonprofit in March with the help of the board secretary, Caroline Chupka-Lewis, and other members of the five-person board.
Moving forward, Jessica Estochin said she hopes Peyton can start taking over more responsibilities as she gets older.
“(Peyton) wants to be involved in all aspects of it, from making and painting the stand, making the iced tea and serving it up,” Sonny Estochin said, recalling the sweet tea stand. “She writes letters every week, like thank you letters or request letters.”
Sonny Estochin added he hopes to be in a position in the future where Peyton’s K-9s can fully fund requests as they come in rather than receiving requests and having to raise money for specific items.
“I would say we want to be known for helping K-9 units in need,” Jessica Estochin said. “We’re not just here for a few months and then going to stop doing what we’re doing. We’re going to run through walls.”
Peyton’s K-9s is hosting a Dec. 13 silent auction and raffle to help raise money for K-9s across the country. Slated for the Antonelli Event Center in North Huntingdon, admission is $40, including entry to the raffle, and additional raffle tickets are $10.
Guests will have the opportunity to meet K-9 units, enjoy food, a cash bar and entertainment. Peyton Estochin is still accepting basket donations and sponsorships from local businesses and community members to help out their main sponsor, Kenny Ross. Those interested can contact Jessica Estochin at 412-401-9949 or email [email protected]
“We don’t plan on stopping,” Jessica Estochin said. “Go, go, go.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .