Police dogs receive new vests

MARIETTA – Whether searching a crime scene or chasing a criminal, the Marietta Police Department’s two police dogs are often in dangerous situations.

It is worrisome for their handlers who raised the German Shepherds Ajax and Diego and work side-by-side with them, said Ajax’s handler, 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.

On Friday, the dogs received custom-made bullet- and stab-resistant vests custom-made free of charge through Vested Interest in K9s Inc., a Massachusetts nonprofit dedicated to keeping 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,” Patrolman Glen McClelland, Diego’s handler who prepared 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 5 pounds and can cause the dogs to overheat, so thought is put into when to use the vests.

They will typically be used when the dogs assist with building searches or hunting someone who is on the run, said 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 and 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 said.

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