Edgewater man donates $5,000 to buy vests to protect Annapolis Police Department's canine unit animals.

A bulletproof plan to shield police dogs

September 23, 2005|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,Sun reporter

Stanley H. Katsef got the idea to buy body armor for Annapolis police dogs while at the veterinarian's office.

He was in the lobby, waiting while Willoughby, his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had a routine check up. Then Katsef saw an article about a local girl who raised money to fund vests for Anne Arundel County Police Department's dogs.

"To tell the truth, I never thought that dogs would need bulletproof vests," Katsef, 61, said.

But the article got him thinking. He called the Annapolis Police Department and discovered that the city's dogs didn't have vests.

So, Katsef, a builder and developer who lives in Edgewater, donated $5,000 - enough to outfit all three of the city's dogs with vests.

"We're animal lovers," he said. The Police Department "has big investments in the dogs, they are trained well and this is a need."

The Annapolis police were pleased - they'd asked the city to fund the vests, but their requests had been denied, said Cpl. Beth Nelson, who heads the department's K-9 unit.

"Just as police officers need ballistic vests to take care of themselves, the dogs do, too," Nelson said. "The dog is going to be the first animal to encounter the suspect, and the dog has no protection except to bite, and that is not much against a handgun."

Donating bulletproof vests to local police departments has become a popular outlet for philanthropy in the past several years.

The phenomena began when Solo, a New Jersey State Police dog, was shot in the line of duty in 1998, said Charlie Mesloh, a police canine specialist and assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

The Solo story was picked up by several newspapers, and then, Mesloh said, another police dog was shot in Miami, further intensifying media and popular interest in risks that dogs face.

"All of a sudden you had 400 articles a year about people donating bulletproof vests," he said.

There is a not-for-profit organization, called Pennies to Protect Police Dogs, founded to "buy all the police dogs bulletproof and stab resistant vests," according to its Web site.

They've raised $300,000 and purchased 404 vests for police dogs in jurisdictions all over the country since 2000, according to their Web site.

Donating vests "gets the community involved," Mesloh said. "People are obviously supporting their police departments, and that is a good thing."

The problem, Mesloh says, is a lack of data suggesting that the vests will provide adequate protection for dogs.

"Most of the dogs that I've seen that get shot are shot in the head or neck," he said. "Those are the parts that present themselves." The FBI does not keep statistics on dogs that are shot.

Nelson doesn't think concerns about inadequate protection should prevent police departments from using vests:

"You provide the best production you can with out compromising their ability to do the jobs," she said.

Also, Mesloh, worries that a vest can slow dogs down - limiting their speed and agility.

This is something Nelson disputes. "We've done several training sessions with the dogs, and you wouldn't even be able to tell the dogs had the vests on," she said.

"You are only talking about an extra five pounds on a dog that weights 80 to 100 pounds."

A police dog has never been shot in Annapolis or in Anne Arundel County, according to city and county police spokesmen.

"It doesn't matter what the statistics say, one could get shot at any time," said Sgt. Shawn A. Urbas, a spokesman for the county police department. He noted that the department, which has 13 police dogs, currently has one vest.

The county police are still researching how to best use funds donated to the department, Urbas said. Last winter Jenn Rogers, a Girl Scout in Riva, gave the department $4,900 specifically for vests, said her mother, Tina Rogers.

Katsef said he'd never made any major donations before, but he is glad he had the chance to help.

"And hopefully," he said, "they'll never have to use them."

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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