A few dozen residents and area police officers gathered near Morrisville’s Town Hall on a cold, drizzly Friday morning to see Arko the police dog show off his fancy new vest.
The lightweight, custom-fitted vest was donated by Spike’s K9 Fund, a charity started by a retired Navy SEAL and K9 handler who lost a dog, Spike, in a mission in Afghanistan. The fund helps provide police dogs with protective gear and cover medical costs for animals injured in the line of duty. Morrisville’s Arko was the first K9 in North Carolina to receive the vest, but a dog in Nags Head wasn’t far behind.
The sleek K-9 Storm ballistic vest represents a vast improvement over older protective garments for K9s, said Morrisville K9 Officer Carl Rodrigues. Like their human counterparts, police dogs have typically had to sacrifice mobility when wearing heavy protective gear. The new model, which costs about $2,500, is designed to be worn throughout the day.
“In the past, we’ve see these vests that are big blankets that wrap around the dog, and the dog can’t even function,” said Rodrigues, Arko’s handler. “He’s tracked in it, done all his work in it, and it doesn’t bother him at all. He even sleeps in it sometimes, in the back of the car. This is the real deal.”
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Rodrigues led the vest-wearing dog through a variety of agility and apprehension demonstrations meant to show how little impact the vest has on Arko’s movements. Jim O’Brien, a professional K9 trainer, donned a Michelin-Man-esque “bite suit” and allowed Arko to latch onto his arms repeatedly, swinging the dog into the air as he tried to wrest his limbs from Arko’s jaws.
“We put these dogs into dangerous situations,” Rodrigues said. “I always joke that they work for dog food, a toy and some love. The least we can do is protect them.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan