published Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Protecting police dogs: Group forming to raise funds to buy bulletproof vests

"Duco," one of the Chattanooga Police Department's K9 Unit dogs, sports a bulletproof vest while on duty with his master, Officer Zach Moody. The Belgian Malinois is one of 11 dogs in the unit needing a bulletproof vest for duty.
"Duco," one of the Chattanooga Police Department's K9 Unit dogs, sports a bulletproof vest while on duty with his master, Officer Zach Moody. The Belgian Malinois is one of 11 dogs in the unit needing a bulletproof vest for duty.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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To donate, call Robin Scott at 423-838-9157.

Chattanooga's finest canines soon will be sporting new life-saving work accessories, the result of a local dog lover's efforts.

Robin Scott is on a mission to purchase newer and lighter bullet- and stab-proof vests to protect the four-legged members of the Chattanooga Police Department's K9 Unit.

"For me, it's all about protecting these dogs," she said.

Scott is forming a nonprofit organization called inVEST in K9 to raise the funds for the department's 11 dogs.

But it's slow going. At more than $900 apiece, these vests aren't cheap. So far, donations have purchased vests for patrol dogs Kona and Duco. Scott is raising money to buy one for Chico.

"I'm trying to get all the word out there I can, because people don't realize these dogs don't have vests," she said.

The K9 Unit has three older vests that weigh about 15 pounds and are difficult for the dogs to wear, according to Sgt. Tommy Meeks.

"They weighed the dog down and made them uncomfortable," he said. "They'd cause them to overheat and would rub them raw under their legs."

The dogs tired more quickly, cutting their work time in half. To compensate, their handlers often worked the dogs without their vests.

The new vests, however, weigh just 4 pounds and are more breathable and flexible.

Even though the department hasn't lost a dog on duty since the 1970s, Scott said the canine cops deserve the same protection as their human counterparts.

"They're officers, as far as I'm concerned," she said. "They're the first ones in. They secure the area to make sure it's safe for their partners to go in."

But it's also about protecting an investment. The city's five patrol dogs are all Belgian Malinois, imported from Holland. They are bred specifically for police work, and even an untrained dog costs about $8,000.

The narcotics and bomb dogs mostly are Labradors that cost $4,000 to $5,000.

"These dogs are an investment, and we want to protect them, not only for the dog, but to keep citizens in the community safe," Meeks said.

Scott got the idea for her nonprofit in April, when watching a YouTube video about an officer whose dog was killed in the line of duty. Scott said she saw the officer crying over the death of his dog.

"An officer crying is not something you normally see," she said.

Scott researched police dogs and soon realized that many are killed while performing their jobs. That's when she hatched her plan to help protect the Scenic City's bravest pooches.

"It's just amazing," Meeks said. "I'm very thrilled that the community is getting behind her to help out."

Scott hopes that one day, every K9 in Tennessee will have a vest.

"It's not just in Chattanooga," Scott said. "I'm going to get these dogs covered and then I'm going to Hamilton County. I'm working my way out."

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at or 423-757-6592 lburkholder@timesfreepress.com.

about Lindsay Burkholder...

Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.

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