Janesville53.1°

Vest program takes a bite out of crime against police dogs

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
September 11, 2008
— Solo entered the building in search of the armed suspect.

But Solo never came back out.


The police dog was shot and killed in the line of duty.


Had Solo been wearing the same type of protection as his handler, he most likely would have lived.


This is a true story that inspired Donna Morgan of Janesville to create Wisconsin Vest-A-Dog, a nonprofit, tax-deductible program that protects police dogs.


Morgan began organizing the once-national program in 2005 when she learned no police dogs in Wisconsin had vests.


“I’ve always been passionate about children and animals because they can’t protect themselves and I can’t stand for them to be hurt,’’ Morgan said.


Morgan’s goal is to provide a bulletproof and stab-proof vest for every police dog--213 at last count--in Wisconsin. To date, only 49 have vests. She has made 17 of those vest purchases possible, including those for four police dogs--two each at the Janesville and Beloit police departments.


Handlers Glen Hageman, of canine officer Karo at the Janesville Police Department, and Brian Daugherty, of canine officer Nick at the Beloit Police Department, are appreciative of the vest gifts.


“I don’t think my department would have been financially able to purchase a vest. Some things are simply out of budget. I was so happy when I got it. It felt like I won the lottery,’’ Daugherty said.


Hageman agreed: “They are expensive. It’s a great opportunity to get these vests.’’


The vest allows the handler at least to know that his best friend and constant companion is going to be protected when he goes in to do his job, Daugherty said.


“It’s a humungous safety bonus for the dog. It’s piece of mind (for me),” he said.


Hageman agreed about the importance of the vest.


“It increases his survival rate,’’ he said of Karo, who will be 3 this month.


Just three years ago, each ballistic dog vest, made by International Armor Corp. in Oceanside, Calif., cost $625. Each vest provides full protection to the back, chest and underbelly of the dog and comes in a removable nylon outer carrier with adjustable Velcro and elastic straps to fit any dog. The cost of each vest today is $840, Morgan said.


Still, she added, that cost is small in comparison to the average $50,000 investment for each police dog.


To buy a police dog and train it and its handler costs around $14,000 while the car they use along with its modifications costs another $36,000, she said.


Around a dozen police dogs are killed on duty each year, Morgan has learned.


But even one death is senseless, she said.


Initially, Morgan ran into roadblocks.


“The first vest I gave out was very difficult because nobody had heard of the program,’’ she said.


But after three months of careful consideration, the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department accepted the vest.


As law enforcement agencies call Morgan, their dogs are added to her list as needing a vest.


“We’re adding more now that they’re finding out how valuable they are,’’ she said.


Morgan has spent countless hours trying to connect with people in each county to ensure their police dogs get vested.


“I need to coordinate fund-raisers in each county to be successful,’’ she said.


With the purchase of each new vest, Morgan gets one step closer to helping keep police dogs safe.


“I don’t want anymore stories of fallen dogs. I look forward to when I can give them that vest. There’s no greater feeling.’’


TO HELP VEST-A-DOG

As soon as $840—the cost of each bulletproof and stab-proof vest—is donated, a vest is ordered for the next dog on the list.


If you would like your donation to go to a specific dog’s vest, specify that when you make your donation.


If you are unable to donate money, you can help by organizing and hosting a fund-raiser, distributing collection boxes to businesses, posting fliers or raising money through a 50/50 raffle at an upcoming golf tournament, dance or outing.


Tax-deductible donations of all amounts are accepted. Those who donate the entire cost of a vest can select the dog to receive the vest, attend the vesting and have your picture taken with the canine and handler.


Make check payable to Vest-a-Dog and mail to: Donna Morgan, 4459 Rockingham Drive, Janesville, WI 53546.


For more information, call (608) 752-3539 or e-mail vestadogwisconsin@yahoo.com.

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