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July 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 01, 2005

Bullet-proof Bullet-proof (July 01, 2005)

Police dogs get vests

by Rebecca Guyon

Canine officers are an integral part of the police force and are often sent into dangerous situations along with their human co-workers. Yet it wasn't until recently that they were afforded the same protection by having their own bulletproof vest. The three canine officers in the police department were sharing one vest, even though they often work during the same shifts. This meant there was always at least one dog out in the field without protection. When Annette Langer, a member of the Citizen's Police Academy and volunteer at the police department, found out about this, she didn't think it was right.

"The policemen always wear vests and protect their bodies, so if they are sending in a dog, I would want to know it is protected as well," Langer said.

But at a cost of $1,300 a vest, making an out-of-pocket donation was out of the question. Still, Langer wanted to do something about the situation, and, as it turned out, 11-year-old Gabriella Perko had already started a project to raise money for the cause. Perko got the idea after reading about a girl her age in Oceanside, Calif. who raised money to buy bulletproof vests for the canine officers in her town.

"I love dogs, so when I read the story it inspired me and made me feel really good that I could also do something," Perko said.

Sergeant Craig Eicher, president of the Police Officers Charitable Foundation, connected Langer and Perko with each other and the two combined forces to raise money for the vests. Together, they set up a donation booth at First Wednesday last year that featured life-size cutouts of the three police dogs and a mini doghouse, which garnered crowds and many donations. They also wrote letters and sent fliers to local businesses explaining their project and they got a huge response.

"They brought together a lot of people in the community contributing to this project," Eicher said.

Langer and Perko received a lot of help from businesses that are especially invested in animals, such as dog hospitals and pet shops, but also got a huge boost from larger companies, specifically PeopleSoft. In fact, Vivian de Villa and Elizabeth Auyeung, two PeopleSoft employees, got heavily involved with the project by selling a dog and cat calendar that featured pictures of PeopleSoft employees' pets. The calendars sold out and de Villa and Auyeung donated all the proceeds to the vest fund.

"I think people realize that the dogs are there doing a job and they want them to be safe," Eicher said. "They want them to be afforded the best protection possible."

Thanks to their intense effort, Langer and Perko were able to raise $12,000 - more than enough for the three new vests. With the additional funds the police department will be able to purchase replacement vests in the coming years. The vests are made of Kevlar, the same material used to make police officer bulletproof vests, and need to be replaced every five years.

"It took a lot of work, but it felt good to say I completed the project," Perko said.

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