ST. PETERSBURG, FL — St. Petersburg Police K9 Darth may not be faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful locomotive. But, like Superman, he will soon be bulletproof.– well, kind of.
On Thursday, Sep. 13, an anonymous donor financed a K9 protective vest for Darth through the nonprofit organization Vested Interest in K9s Inc.. Darth is the last of the St. Petersburg Police’s 12 K9s to receive a body armor. Darth’s vest, which will arrive in eight to 10 weeks, will be embroidered with the sentiment, “Honoring those who served and sacrificed.”
Darth’s handler, Officer Kevin Vater, is relieved that Darth will be protected with body armor made from the same materials as those worn by police officers.
In active crime situations, K9s are often the first line of defense. They enter a crime scene first to subdue criminals which may be armed with guns or knives.
While the body armor doesn’t cover the dog’s entire body, it protects the dog’s torso and vital organs that are most vulnerable to attack.
In July, a K9 named Zero with the Oahu, Hawaii, police required surgery after being stabbed several times in the torso with an arrow.
K9 Hemi wasn’t quite so lucky. That same month the K9 with the Arkansas State Police pursued a man who had been involved in a gunfight with troopers. They later found Hemi’s body in the woods with multiple gunshots to his torso.
Zero and Hemi’s lack of body armor wasn’t because due to a lack of concern by their respective departments. It was the cost that prevented the K9s fron being outfitted with protective vests.
The retail cost of each custom-fitted K9 vest is $1,744 to $2,283. By purchasing in bulk, Vested Interest in K9s is able to purchase them for the discounted price of $950. However, even that price is beyond the budgets of many law enforcement agencies.
With that in mind, Vested Interest began its community fundraiser program. In addition to accepting online donations, the nonprofit provides community organizations help with fundraisers.
Through large corporate donations as well as neighborhood lemonade stands, Vested Interest in K9s has raised $5.7 million since 2009 to provide 3,100 protective vests to K9s.
Each vest is embroidered with the name of the donor, in memory of a fallen law enforcement officer or with a general sentiment.
The goal of Vested Interest in K9s is to outfit all of the estimated 30,000 law enforcement K9s in the United States with vests.
To donate to Vested Interest in K9s, click here.
Images via St. Pete Police
K9 Darth and Deputy Kevin Vater
St. Pete Police K9 Ruger shows off his body armor.