ROSSVILLE -- The story of a New Jersey police dog's deadly encounter with a gunman led West Side Elementary School's fifth-grade student council to take on a project to provide bulletproof vests to two of Chattanooga's new four-legged officers.
Student council member Lyndsay Mackay said she got the idea from a Christmas gift in 2008.
Lyndsay said she was inspired by a story in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book series about California fifth-grader Stephanie Taylor's launch of Vest-A-Dog Network, a nonprofit organization that helps raise awareness and funding for police dog vests.
"It had one story called 'Going to the Dogs,' and it was about this girl who read about a (police) dog who actually died because he got shot," said Lyndsay, 11.
"If he had a bulletproof vest he would've lived, and she was so moved by the story that she actually set up the first Vest-A-Dog," she said.
Lyndsay, then a fourth-grader, said she thought a campaign to provide vests for unprotected police dogs would be a good community project for the fifth-grade student council.
She and fellow students started raising money in December by selling candy, holding bake sales and getting donations from local businesses, she said. They raised more than $1,400 toward the purchase of the vests.
Jolee Parry, East Side counselor and student council sponsor, said the Vest-A-Dog campaign served as the council's community project for 2009-10. Mrs. Parry said she knew nothing of the Vest-A-Dog Network until Lyndsay brought it to her attention.
She said Catoosa County law enforcement agencies didn't have a need for dog vests, but she found out the Chattanooga Police Department had just acquired two canine officers, Kilo and Rainer, who didn't have protection.
Chattanooga Officer Zach Moody said Kilo came onboard a little more than a month ago, along with "Rainer," Sgt. Tommy Meeks' new dog. Rainer and Sgt. Meeks couldn't attend a meeting with students Wednesday.
THE VEST-A-DOG STORY
In 1999, 11-year-old Stephanie Taylor read a story about a New Jersey police dog named "Solo" who was killed in the line of duty. This story, along with the knowledge that the Associated Humane Society of New Jersey had raised money to vest their police dogs, gave her the idea to start Vest-A-Dog, Inc. Her first dog to be vested would be "Tiko," the K-9 partner of Oceanside, Calif., Officer Jim Wall. To learn more, visit the Vest-A-Dog Network at vestadog.org.
"When you know that you're going to help two police dogs in need, it's a good deal." -- East Side Elementary fifth-grader Roy Chapman on fundraising for bulletproof vests for police dogs
"He does (searches) for narcotics, and he does criminal apprehension," Officer Moody said of Kilo. That activity can put police dogs in close contact with dangerous people, he said.
"When they're used is on a building search where we're unsure whether the parties inside are armed," he said.
"That's when we're going to deploy them is when it's unsafe for officers to enter," Officer Moody said. "We're basically sending them into something that's so dangerous we don't want to enter."
K-9 Officer Billy Atwell, who brought his already-vested partner, "Xander," to meet students Wednesday, said the donation for vests especially is appreciated in a time when police budgets are tight.
Student Roy Chapman, 11, said he raised about $10 a week for the vests by selling Vest-A-Dog newspapers. He added some of his own comics to help sell the papers, he said.
"It's hard to keep your attention on selling, but when you know that you're going to help two police dogs in need, it's a good deal," Roy said.