CREATED Mar 1, 2013
Reporter: Kevin Keen
Web Producer: Taylor Higgins
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - This story starts with a 9 On Your Side viewer. He's a dog lover who wanted to know why he doesn't see police K-9s always wearing bulletproof vests.
9 On Your Side's Kevin Keen set out to find the answer.
They protect and serve with four legs and a tail. They're police pooches -- sprinting, sniffing and serving alongside human handlers like Tucson Police Sgt. Brad Pelton.
They're much more than furry -- they're "fundamental" to the force, Pelton said.
"We use one K-9 officer (or) we'd need 10 or 12 officers to cover the same amount of area," Pelton explained.
They're valuable to cops and to citizens.
"People love them," said Rob LaMaster, executive director of the Tucson Police Foundation. "They want them protected. They want them to be well cared for."
That is precisely why people give money to the Tucson Police Foundation, said LaMaster, enabling TPD to buy extra canine equipment.
Bulletproof vests for dogs generally cost a minimum $600.
That's protection with a price tag, so we'd want dogs to don them all the time, right?
"The vests are primarily used on special occasions where we're dealing with an armed suspect that's maybe held up inside a building," Pelton said, giving the example of a SWAT situation.
Why not always wear them?
"Probably the biggest downfall of the vests is the fact that the dogs don't cool themselves the way that humans cool themselves," Pelton said. "They get overheated and sometimes our scouts will last up to an hour and a half. With the vest on, the dogs can't make it that long."
"They'll chew the vest if it's left on for too long," he said, adding dogs usually wear them for 20 to 30 minutes tops.
And how about Ivan, the TPD canine that was shot and killed in December?
"No, Ivan was not wearing a vest," Pelton said. "It was one of those dynamic, fast-moving situations where putting the vest on him would have probably allowed the suspect to escape."
Pelton said it's unclear if a vest could have saved Ivan from the buller.
"It was right near his shoulder blade and it's not hard to say," he said, "It would've been right on the edge where the vest would've covered."
Still, the vests there, ready for the pooches risking their lives for ours.
"They become part of TPD's family and if we're protecting the officers out on the beat, we need to protect those K-9 officers as well," LaMaster said.