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Going to the Dogs

Conservancy donates to K-9 unit safety.

The Burke Centre Conservancy will hand over a check for approximately $500 to the Fairfax County Police Department's K-9 in the next few weeks.

The organization collected the money through donations at its first annual "Doggie Dip," when it allowed residents' dogs to swim in its pool just before staff members drained it at the end of the season.

The dip's organizers hope the money is used to assist with the purchase and maintenance of the canine bullet-proof vests, which cost $400 to $700, said Kala Quintana, a member of the Conservancy's Board of Trustees that organized the event.

When trying to find a good cause the event could benefit, Quintana remembered an article she had read about the dangers dogs in K-9 units face, particularly since not all localities can afford to purchase bulletproof vests for canine officers.

"This is something I had heard about in the past, the danger that canine officers are in. Lots of times they are in a situation where they face a person who will stab them or shoot them. It is just something that struck a chord with me," said Quintana.

The Fairfax County Police Department already purchases vests for its 20 police dogs, including 13 German Shepherds, four Labrador Retrievers and three Bloodhounds, said Eddy Ascarate, one of the department's public information officer.

"All officers are issued vests and the canine officers are considered officers," said Ascarate, who said there are always one to three police dogs working the county at one time.

POLICE departments use patrol dogs, typically German Shepherds, to apprehend armed suspects. The police will frequently send the dogs into a volatile situation before a human officer, especially when they fear the human officer could be shot or harmed, said John Hoover, a police officer in Roanoke City who heads up a Virginia Association of K-9 units.

"The patrol dogs that apprehend criminals. We keep them for situations where the subject might armed and they are subject to being stabbed or shot," said Hoover.

Currently, about 200 to 300 police dogs work in Virginia and at least eight or nine canine cops have been killed in the line of duty over the past two decades, said Hoover.

German Shepherds, which are used to patrol and need the vests, cost about $5,000 to initially purchase and up to $5,000 per month to maintain due to food and medical needs. They initially go through 14 weeks of training and continue to undergo 10 hours of training every four weeks until they retire, according to the "West Springfield Shield," the West Springfield Police Department's monthly newsletter.

Bloodhounds, which are almost exclusively used to track people, are far less expensive at $750 each and require only one year of training, according to the newsletter.

QUINTANA said she had previously been told by the department and officers that not all dogs had vests and that the police had at least partially relied on charitable organizations, like The Lion's Club, or human officers to purchase them in the past.

If the department does not need to purchase any more vests, the money could be used for another cause that benefits the K-9 unit or vest maintenance, which can be expensive.

"Like human vests, the canine vests wear out and have to be replaced. It is not like you purchase one and you're done," she said.