Officer Brad Gallant of the Rumford Police Department and Niko, his police dog, a black Labrador Retriever, recently received a free bullet-proof vest and dog first aid kit from Maine K9 Vests, an Oxford-based nonprofit company. Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Robichaud

A high school project to buy a bullet-proof vest for a police dog has turned into a nonprofit company in Oxford that raises money to purchase and then customize vests for dogs at local police departments and sheriff’s offices.

Maine K9 Vests Fund so far has donated 12 vests, mostly by raising money from jars left on store counters.

“I think it’s a money issue with local departments,” said Wayne Robichaud, who runs the company with his wife, daughter and two sons. “The cost of getting a dog for a department is about $20,000, including getting the dog, training the dog and officer and getting a new or upgraded cruiser for the dog.” The vest and first aid kit would be on top of that.

Cruisers equipped to accommodate police dogs need to have fans and an alarm that goes off if the car and fans shut off. An Indiana police dog died of heat stroke in July 2017 after being left in a hot patrol car for hours.

Robichaud said the idea for the business, which became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit this May, started with a senior project his daughter, Jennifer, did for a law enforcement class at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in 2009. She put donation cans in local stores and raised $800 for a vest for Maria, a police dog in the York County Sheriff’s Office.

When Robichaud retired from his towing company, he took up the project, placing donation cans in stores and sitting outside the Walmart in Oxford handing out informational pamphlets and collecting donations. The rest of the family, all animal lovers, are now involved in the business.

It takes two to three months to get enough money for a vest and a first aid kit for one dog, which totals $1,000. He buys the vests from a Washington state company called Bulletproof-It, and gets three patches from the police department that will get the dog vest. Two patches go on either side of the vest, much like the placement of the patches on the police officer. Robichaud keeps the third for his own collection.

The Happy Pooch owner Karyn Reidman of Cape Elizabeth donates collars and leashes for the dogs, Robichaud said.

“The vests are Level 3 ballistic rated, so they can stop a bullet from a handgun,” he said.

The vests weigh about 6 pounds.

The most recent recipients of the vests, on Dec. 3, were officer Brad Galland of the Rumford police department and his black Labrador retriever, Niko, and Deputy Derrick Doucette of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and his German shepherd, Judge.

Robichaud is now raising money, including via his Facebook page and corporate donors, for Axel, a German shepherd in the Farmington Police Department, and Vixen, a Dutch shepherd in the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

With nonprofit status, Robichaud now accepts donations from corporations, which help add up the funding more quickly. Walmart recently donated $500 through a community grant program, Sam’s Italian Foods in Lewiston donated $200 and he’s expecting another $1,000 from Franklin Savings Bank.

Among the vests donated is one given to the son of Somerset County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole, who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. David Cole, a detective in the same sheriff’s office, received a vest for his Malinois police dog named Kojo.

“We [customized] the vest and Paws & Claws Pet Grooming in Belfast paid for it,” Robichaud said of Kojo’s vest. “I’d love for every canine in Maine to be covered with a vest.”

Holiday driving creates Grinches, Scrooges

Aggressive drivers, ugly sweaters and grinchiness have become holiday hallmarks, and some agencies are rating how states rank for each.

According to GasBuddy, New England states are far less stressful to drivers than Georgia and California, which rank first and second, respectively, when it comes high-temper driving to do those extra errands and holiday traveling.

On average, Gas Buddy found driving habits are 175 percent more aggressive during the holidays compared to the rest of the year.

New Englanders don’t even break the top 10 for driving mad during the holiday season, which Gas Buddy said is the most stressful time of the year.

Connecticut was the most “scroogy” of the six states, ranking 19th, according to GasBuddy. Maine ranked 36th overall, with 7.2 aggressive events per driver, less than Georgia’s 11.6 events.

There was no mention of a grade curve for the Boston drivers now living in Maine.

GasBuddy examined tens of millions of its Drives app users in the 50 states and Washington D.C. from Nov. 21 to Nov. 25, 2018, noting the frequency of an aggressive event per driver, whether it be speeding, hard braking or accelerating.

“As we head into December, motorists shouldn’t let the stress of the season negatively impact the way they drive. Not only is aggressive driving dangerous but it is the quickest way to lower gas mileage by as much as 40 percent,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analyst at GasBuddy. “The holidays should be the most wonderful time of the year, not the most costly at the pump.”

Speaking of scrooginess, Maine fared “naughtiest” in holiday spirit when it came to shopping for cookies, milk and other goods, according to Denver-based shopping app company Ibotta. It found that Utah is the nicest state and Maine the naughtiest on Santa’s list.

Mainers bought the least number of milk, cookies or carrots to leave for Santa and the reindeer as they work hard to deliver presents, Ibotta found when analyzing 5.1 million item-level receipts for purchases made the week before Christmas in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

When it comes to leaving cookies out for Santa, Rhode Island goes the homemade route, followed by Connecticut and Massachusetts for purchasing the most cookie baking supplies — flour, sugar, eggs and chocolate chips — the week before Christmas.

But there’s still time for Mainers to catch up in another dubious ranking, that for ugly holiday sweaters. Baked goods company Pillsbury debuted its Doughboy Ugly Christmas Sweaters, which went on sale on Dec. 5 and sold out within two hours. But no worries. Ugly Christmas sweaters abound in shopping malls around the state.

Backyard Farms adds New York site

Hydroponic tomato grower Backyard Farms of Madison, which grows all of its tomatoes indoors in nutrient-rich water year-round, is expanding with a new greenhouse in Oneida, New York, the company said Dec. 3.

The company’s owner, Mastronardi Produce Ltd. of Canada, which bought Backyard Farms in 2017, said it will build what it claims is the largest high-tech greenhouse in North America.

The 71.6-acre glass greenhouse will more than doubles Backyard Farms’ greenhouse growing acreage and increase Mastronardi Produce’s internal greenhouse network to seven locations across the United States.

The New York-grown tomatoes are slated to hit store shelves by the fall of 2019.