Project Paws Alive presented the sheriff’s office last month with two ballistics vests, 10 cooling vests and 10 trauma first-aid kits, valued at about $8,500. The money is raised through donations, with most of Richmond County’s coming from out of state, according to Karen Caprio, co-founder and vice president.
“The communities really get behind us when they understand that this isn’t standard equipment that’s issued,” Caprio said.
Project Paws Alive started last September after the founders heard about a series of police dog deaths that could have been prevented with ballistics vests. In its first year, the organization has fully funded 14 Georgia agencies with K-9 protective gear. Caprio said they have expanded support nationwide, but the primary focus is Georgia.
An organization supporter on Facebook led them to Richmond County, where Caprio found that the sheriff’s office unit of 10 dogs had only two ballistics vests, both of which are outdated.
The unit, which includes Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, Belgian Malinois and hounds, started 13 years ago and offers support for 15 counties in tracking, narcotics and explosive/weapon searches.
Funding grants had helped purchase ballistics vests, but now the money has dried up.
It’s not uncommon to see similar situations elsewhere. Caprio said canine units are often bypassed when it comes time to allocate money, and in many locations the units are run on donations alone.
According to the Project Paws Alive, ballistics vests cost about $1,400; cooling vests, $200; and trauma kits, $350. Most vests are recommended for five years of use before replacement.
“It’s crippling,” Caprio said of the costs. “It’s hard every five years for any department to make an investment of $1,400 per canine.”
The project originally started out with a $15,000 goal and would provide all three items for each dog, but the list was later readjusted, Caprio said.
“Project Paws really was great assisting us,” said Sgt. John Gray, the K-9 unit supervisor. “They were able to accomplish the goals that were set out. They initiated it, raised the money and did all the work, so our hats are off to them.”
The new items have been dispersed and a veterinarian-taught, K-9 first-aid class in October will train handlers on the trauma kit items.
“(The handlers) were really excited about the trauma kits,” Gray said. “They provide us a little bit of a edge in the event that, while we’re in the field, something happens to our partners. It provides them a little comfort while we get them to a vet.”
The ballistics vests, which are bullet-proof and knife-proof, have been issued to the unit’s tracking dogs. Because the vests are specially fit to the wearer, they will not be traded out throughout the unit.
All dogs have been fitted for cooling vests, but Gray anticipates they will be especially helpful to tracking dogs during long searches in the hot, Georgia sun.
Caprio said the organization will maintain an ongoing relationship with the sheriff’s office to help the unit meet new needs in the upcoming years.