Police dogs face new threat
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JANESVILLE Despite the popularity of “America’s Most Wanted,” few are spurred to action just by watching the show. But for Donna Morgan of Janesville, one episode changed her life.
“I wasn’t really watching the show, I was doing paperwork,” Morgan said. “They showed (a dog) as a family dog, then as a police dog. I wondered if I should turn it off because I can’t watch that stuff. I thought it would be a re-enactment.
“The view was from the police car video that was right there. They sent the dog in to take the gun out of his (the alleged criminal’s) hand. When the dog was lunging, the guy took out a gun and shot it in the chest. You could see it, it was awful. It came back off the ground, and that dog took the gun away from the guy.
“The handler was bawling. I’m crying. It was the most horrific thing.”
The show was highlighting the need for bulletproof vests for police dogs, and on the bottom of the screen was a phone number to contact the California Vest-A-Dog program. When Morgan called, it was disconnected.
Morgan said she couldn’t sleep the rest of the weekend, and on Monday morning, she started Wisconsin Vest-A-Dog in her living room.
That was 2005. Today, every Wisconsin police dog is vested, thanks to the Wisconsin Vest-A-Dog program. Though Morgan is pleased with these results, she doesn’t want donors to grow complacent. Armor companies warrant the vests for five years, and some of the Wisconsin vests’ warranties will soon expire. These vests will need to be replaced, and the cycle never ends.
The initial vests cost about $800 each. Today, these prices are rising, and some of the dog handlers are requesting vests that are almost $1,000.
“I would like to go with each handler’s personal preference,” Morgan said. “Every dog is different. Since we’re in a little better position, I’d like to do that.” Even so, she said she might limit the dollar amount, especially if it exceeds $2,500.
Bringing a dog into a police force could cost up to $16,000. This price includes the dog and the training program for the handler. Outfitting a squad car for a K-9 unit could cost another $30,000 or more. Buying the vest is “insurance” on a department’s investment, Morgan said.
“A lot of departments try to use money that doesn’t come from the taxpayer,” said officer Brian Daugherty, who has been with the Beloit Police Department for eight years. Often money comes from drug seizure money, Daugherty said.
Daugherty, the handler for dog Nick since 2006, recognizes the value dogs add to the police force.
“The military calls these dogs a tool or equipment. It’s cold, but it’s a tool you use to be safer,” Daugherty said. “I love my dog to death, but I can always get another dog. I can’t go out and get another me, or get another officer. We use the dogs for officer safety to get the bad guy.”
Most police dogs are used to sniff out drugs, search criminal hideouts or homes and buildings that are being burglarized.
“Whenever there is a SWAT call, when there are armed people in buildings, those are the perfect situations to have a vested dog,” said officer Shaun Mahaffey, a 10-year veteran of the Janesville Police Department. He’s been a handler for Hardy since 2007.
“Nick is referred to as a dual-purpose dog,” Daugherty said. “He will find drugs -- marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. Those are the drugs that most drug dogs are trained to locate.
“He will search buildings for us. If we go to a burglary in process, we will send the dog in first. He can locate articles or evidence that’s been discarded by people. He will physically engage someone if they’re trying to engage me. Or, if they have committed a violent crime, we’ll use the dog to apprehend them.
“Most of the stuff we do is pretty mild,” Daugherty added. “But when you have a major event or a violent criminal, nothing beats a dog when it comes to that stuff.”
The police department owns the dogs, but only one person is assigned as the dog’s handler. At home, Nick and other police dogs are family pets. But when Nick gets to the station, he gets down to business.
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For more information about Wisconsin Vest-A-Dog, go online to www.wivestadog.org or call (608) 752-3539.