Canine cops get armor |

Canine cops get armor

In the last three months, 11 police dogs have been killed in the line of duty.

A German shepherd in Ohio named Cero was shot March 25 while subduing a man who was later killed by sheriff’s deputies in an exchange of gunfire. After he was wounded, the dog lived long enough to crawl back to his partner, Deputy William Niemi, who held him as he died.

“Basically he saved his handler’s life,” said Terry Fleck of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office K9 unit. “I was shocked by the number of dogs killed this year, but it is not too surprising because it is their job to be in harm’s way.”

To help keep the three police service dogs working in South Lake Tahoe from harm, the sheriff’s office and the police department recently bought bulletproof vests for the animals with money donated by the community. The 4-pound Kevlar vests cost $1,000 each.

“It was amazing,” Fleck said. “We are very grateful to the people and could not have done this without them.”

The Fire Fest Committee began raising money for the vests in October 1999 and by late last year more than $5,000 had been donated by dozens of businesses and individuals.

“We were getting checks for $5 anywhere up to hundreds of dollars,” said Fleck, who handles Tracker, a 5-year-old German shepherd. “There was tremendous support for the idea.”

Police dogs working on the South Shore have been shot at and attacked with knives, but none have been injured on the job.

“We have been lucky,” said Fleck, who knows of two dogs on the East Coast that have been saved by vests that protect their chest and back. “The vests protect the dogs’ vital organs just like those worn by police officers.”

The vests hamper the dogs’ movement slightly but are a vast improvement over older designs according to David Allen, who handles Hobbes, one of the police department’s two Belgian Malinois. The other is called “Buddy,” and is handled by officer Brian McGuckin.

“Before the vests were heavy and looked just like a blanket,” Allen said. “They gave the dogs trouble.”

Police service dogs need to be able to chase suspects over walls and other obstacles – older vests would not have allowed them to do that. The dogs also search for drugs and other evidence, and warn their partners of danger.

The dogs often need up to a year of training before they are able to work with police, said trainer Robbie Hight of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.

“Basic training might last six months,” Allen said. “But every day of a dog’s life is a training day.”

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