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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One of Goodyear's police K-9 units now has less to worry about while serving Arizona residents.

The Goodyear Police Department announced the donation of a K-9 ballistic vest from the Sahuaro State Kennel Club at the Arizona State Fairgrounds on Sunday, February 3.

"We chose Goodyear because it is a small police department that normally doesn't have the funds to purchase equipment like this for their dogs," Marilyn Little, president of the Sahuaro State Kennel Club said. "[The dogs] protect and serve us just as much as the officers do."

Usually when people think of safety for police officers, they often think of Kevlar vests. These vests have saved countless numbers of officer's lives when they put themselves in harm's way, but when officers carry out search warrants, raid drug houses or deal with dangerous criminals K-9's are usually with them every step of the way.

Kathy Painter, a member of the Sahuaro State Kennel Club for nearly 25 years, said every year the kennel makes charitable donations and she suggested this year the donation be made to Goodyear police.

"When they mentioned that they wanted to give a vest to a city on the west side, I asked if I could contact Goodyear and see if they needed one," Painter said.

She said the department was in need and that all of Goodyear's K-9 vests have been acquired through donations.

Sgt. Sean Clark of Goodyear police said there are many different types of vests K-9 units use depending on what type of duty the dog is intended to perform. He said Goodyear police dogs only use vests designed for patrol and narcotics duty.

"The ones we have are stab and ballistic resistant," Clark said.

The vest donated Sunday was specifically designed for Goodyear's K-9 unit Leroy, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois who works with patrol and SWAT teams.

Clark said their department has made a shift from using the German shepherd breed, which is commonly used in law enforcement, because the Belgian breeds are more available and don't have hip dysplasia problems that German shepherds often do.

Though only a singular donation was made, it was no small order because high-end K-9 vests can be very expensive. The vest given to Leroy was custom made by the company K9 Storm in Canada for $2,500.

"A lot of the cheaper vests are just like a blanket with straps on them, it doesn't run with the dog," Clark said. "These vests are just a lot more comfortable for the dog."

Besides providing protection, Clark said the vest can be used as a harness to lift or lower the dog as necessary.

"If we had to lower him into a building or something like that, it's built to hold that dog up," Clark said.

The Goodyear Police Department currently has four K-9 units and Sunday's donation marked the second donation of a vest to Goodyear Police.

Ballistic vests go a long way to protect K-9 units from harm which is important considering the time and money invested in each dog.

Goodyear Police K-9s are selected from breeders in Europe and each dog comes with a price tag of around $10,000 Clark said.

Most dogs enter service between the ages of two and four years old, and usually work for the department until they are seven or eight years old.

Clark said at one of their units though, a narcotics dog named Tornado, is 10 years old and still serving thanks to advancements in medical care.

"Our vet goes so far as doing adjustments on their back," Clark said. "He is chiropractic certified, so he'll even adjust their back and stuff."

Officers who handle K-9 units for the Goodyear police also go through a lot of work to train the dogs. Officers must have worked in the department for two years and go through a special selection process to become handlers. After being selected, the officer and dog go through an eight to 10 week training program, after which K-9s and their handlers are deployed full-time.

Now with another K-9 of the Goodyear Police Department better protected, residents of Goodyear should feel comfortable that not only is their investment in the dog safe, but also the life of a hardworking civil servant is well protected too.

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