Two Youngwood rescue dogs are putting safety first with their new bulletproof vests.
The vests came from Vested Interest in K9s, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that donates protective clothing for canine professionals.
Youngwood applied to Vested Interest for vests for two of its search and rescue dogs, Bella and Rusty.
“We’re trying to protect them just like we’re trying to protect all of our firemen,” Youngwood fire Chief Lloyd Crago said.
He said he hopes to eventually purchase vests for all 10 of the department’s rescue dogs, but since each custom-fitted vest costs $950 it will take some major fundraising efforts to make it happen.
Vested Interest has been providing vests free of charge since it was founded in 2009.
“The dogs that are taking care of us, we have to take care of them. They deserve the same level of protection as human officers,” said Vested Interest president and founder Sandy Marcal.
This need for protection was highlighted earlier this year when Rocco, a K-9 officer in Pittsburgh, died of a stab wound.
Vested Interest launched a nationwide fundraiser following Rocco’s death. It brought in about $335,000 in less than a month, enough for 335 vests.
All the vests funded through this effort, including those donated to Bella and Rusty, have been embroidered with “In Memory of K9 Rocco, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.”
So far, all dogs nationwide who meet the application requirements have been able to receive a vest, Marcal said.
“We don’t have a waiting list. We haven’t had a waiting list in three years,” she said.
To be eligible, dogs must be fully grown and certified for the type of work they are doing.
The vests are lightweight, at just over 4 pounds, and easy for the dogs and their handlers to get used to, Crago said.
“It’s just a little bit of a learning curve for the dog and the handler,” he said.
The Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department plans to begin fundraising for more vests soon.