New vests protect police dogs

Whether searching a crime scene or chasing down a criminal, the Marietta Police Department’s two K-9 officers-German Shepherds Ajax and Diego- are often entering into potentially dangerous situations.

It is a worrisome thought for the dogs’ human counterparts, who raise the dogs and work side by side with them every single shift, said Ajax’s handler, Marietta Patrolman Matt Hickey.

“I can’t keep my eyes on him all the time. You don’t know what a bad guy is going to try to do,” he said.

But now, thanks to the receipt of a pair of protective K-9 vests, the dogs’ handlers can rest a little easier knowing Ajax and Diego will be much safer in those scenarios.

Friday the pups each received a bullet and stab resistant vest that was custom-made for the dogs and provided to the department free of charge through Vested Interest in K9s, Inc., a Massachusetts nonprofit dedicated to keeping the nation’s police dogs safe.

“They contacted us on Facebook. We have our own Marietta Police Department K-9 page, and they wanted to know if we had vests for our dogs,” explained Diego’s handler, Patrolman Glen McClelland, who filled out the application for the vests.

The nonprofit hoped to raise enough money through a fundraising campaign on the website Groupon to outfit 100 dogs with vests, but ended up receiving so much support they were able to outfit more than 160 dogs, said McClelland.

The department announced in April that the dogs had been chosen to receive the vests, but it took a few months for the vests to be custom-made.

The new K-9 vests are similar to a human bulletproof vest in construction and can cost about the same-around $2,000. However, Vested Interest was able to purchase the vests for $950 because they were awarded government contract prices.

Now the dogs will periodically wear the vests during training exercises to get used to the weight and feel of them, said Hickey.

“Ajax does OK with his. You can see when I take it off of him that he already knows the drill,” he said.

The vests weigh less than five pounds, but can cause the dogs to get overheated so it will be important to use discretion in deciding when to use the vests.

They will typically be used when the dogs assist with building searches or hunting down someone who is on the run, said Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite.

“Anytime where there’s a good potential someone has a weapon” is when they’ll be used, he said.

Hickey has been handling a dog for the department since 1996, long before 2-year-old Ajax or 8-year-old Diego were born, and can remember instances where suspects tried to harm the dogs in an attempt to escape.

“My first dog, Marco, was chasing down a guy and he reached around behind him with a screwdriver and was trying to stab Marco as he was running and being bit. Marco just hung on,” recalled Hickey.

That is exactly the type of situation where the vests will prove invaluable, he added.

And those situations happen more frequently than one might think.

Over the weekend, Ajax participated in a building search at Crescent & Sprague Supply on Greene Street in Marietta after a breaking and entering at the building, said Hickey.

And last week Diego and McClelland aided with a suspect search after a man fled from a traffic stop, he added.

“They’re not just dogs,” added Waite. “They are partners for the officers that work with them. They’re just like any other police officer.”