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Investing in K-9s

March 28, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Emily Bolton's soft spot for canines spurred her desire to protect Washington County's K-9s.

The fifth-grade student at Old Forge Elementary School in Hagerstown is trying to raise $5,000 for bulletproof vests for the 10 police dogs in Washington County.

"The dogs help us and save the police officers every day and they should be protected, too," said Emily, who is the daughter of Chris and Joann Bolton. "And I just like helping animals."

K-9 dogs confront such dangers as explosives and armed suspects in robberies, drug-related crimes and other investigations, said Emily, 10.

"If Ginger was a police dog," she said of her cocker spaniel, "I'd want her to be protected."

The youngster got the idea from a story she read in "Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul." A girl in San Diego raised money for K-9 vests after reading about a police dog that was shot and killed in the line of duty, Emily said.

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She wondered if police dogs in Washington County had protection against such a fate.

With the help of her father, Emily wrote letters to local police departments to find out if they had K-9 vests or wanted them. She discovered that none of the dogs at the Hagerstown Police Department, Washington County Sheriff's Department or Maryland State Police barracks in Hagerstown had vests, Emily said.

Police "were really excited about the idea" of raising money for the equipment, Emily said.

New technology has made practical - but expensive - the vests that once were too bulky to be effective, said Sgt. Mike King of the Hagerstown Police Department.

"They've made leaps and bounds in ballistic body armor protection," King said.

K-9 vests have traditionally been so heavy that they distracted the dogs. The new vests are light yet strong enough to protect trained K-9 dogs - which cost $12,000 to $15,000 to replace -from the dangers of their jobs, said King, a former K-9 handler.

The dogs draw the first attention of criminals and their gunfire because the K-9s lead their handlers into dangerous situations by 15 feet, King said.

The vests, which cost about the same as an average-quality bulletproof vest for humans, would protect patrol and narcotics dogs against bullets and bomb-sniffing dogs against flying shrapnel, he said.

Unlike other police agencies in the state, King said, Hagerstown police have never lost a K-9 in the line of duty.

Emily has already secured $500 in donations from F&M Bank - her father's employer - and Longmeadow Animal Hospital, where she takes Ginger. She and friends Lauren and Taylor Donley are crafting donation boxes out of cottage cheese containers to place at Longmeadow and other area animal hospitals, she said.

Emily, who hopes to become a veterinarian, said she is confident she will raise the rest of the money needed to vest local K-9 dogs.

"There's a lot of animal lovers like me out there," she said.

In addition to donation boxes at local animal hospitals, donations can be mailed to the Vest-A-Dog account at F&M Bank, P.O. Box 919, Hagerstown, MD 21741-0919.

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