AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group that provides emotional and financial support to families of fallen first responders is starting a new program to help local police departments buy bulletproof vests for K9 officers.
Thursday evening, the 100 Club of Central Texas will be raising money for the new vest program to help protect the four-legged police partners. It’s a proactive step for the typically reactive organization that hopes the financial aid will help departments that can’t afford the protection they want.
The restaurant Austin Terrier, in the northeast part of the city, is partnering with the 100 Club of Central Texas. From 5-8 p.m. Thursday, a portion of the proceeds from dinner will go to the new program. The organization will also be there to collect donations if you can’t stay for very long.
“It was a perfect fit,” owner Sanjay Rana said. If you can’t tell from the name, Austin Terrier is very fur-baby-friendly. “It’s a dog-themed, dog-friendly place. We love everything dog-related.”
The restaurant, with its canine-based art, plus water and snacks on hand for dogs, was a no-brainer to host the fundraiser, he said. “They’re always out there putting themselves in the line of danger for us,” Rana said, “and we now get to help buy them some protection hopefully that will keep them safer in the line of duty.”
“A lot of people don’t think about what a K9 officer does and how they impact the solving of a crime,” said Etta Moore, executive director of the 100 Club of Central Texas. Police dogs are often just as much on the front lines as their handlers, chasing suspects and risking their lives.
This year alone, at least 22 K9 officers have died in the line of duty across the U.S., according to a database maintained by the Officer Down Memorial Page. Seven of those deaths came from gunfire; another two dogs were stabbed. The most common cause of death was heat exhaustion, killing at least eight K9s this year.
For departments looking to offer an extra layer of protection for their canine partners, the cost can be prohibitive. Vests for dogs can cost hundreds of dollars on the low end, and more than $2,000 on the higher end.
The University of Texas at Austin Police Department has two K9 officers with a third in training. Both current police dogs have ballistic vests that came from charitable means. The first was donated by another local group and the second Sgt. Jason Taylor won in a raffle.
Taylor, who started the K9 officer program at UTPD, said the dogs he’s worked with have never needed the vest in their duties on campus, but it’s comforting to know the option is there if needed.
That’s where Thursday’s fundraiser comes in. “We had to try to help out in any way we could,” Rana said.
Last week, an Austin Police Department K9 and his handler held a joint retirement party at the dog-friendly restaurant. The party lasted several hours, with people stopping by to congratulate the pooch and his partner. The restaurant owner hopes the community contributions he’ll be collecting will help more K9s make it to retirement.
“You can’t do it soon enough,” Rana said, “because they’re out there working every day.”