A new grant will make it possible for Kimber, a police dog with the Aroostook County Sheriff's Department, to receive a bullet- and stab-proof vest. Credit: Courtesy of Aroostook County Sheriff's Department / BDN

HOULTON, Maine –  A recent donation of body armor will help protect Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office police dog Kimber as she helps deputies try to cut down on drug possessions in Aroostook County.

Drug dog Kimber, who just turned three this week, is getting a custom-made bullet- and stab-proof National Institute of Justice certified vest from Massachusetts-based Vested Interest in K9s. Kimber’s vest is sponsored by a donation from Mari Deese of Norco, California, and the breastplate will be embroidered with “Born to Love-Trained to Serve-Loyal Always.”

Police dogs can be the first to enter a crime scene. Last year, at least 24 were lost nationally, the year before, 16, said Sandy Marcal, the founder of Vested Interest in K9s, adding that each year they do a fallen hero tribute.

“This is a great program, “ Aroostook County Sheriff Chief Deputy Joey Seeley said. “All deputies wear bulletproof vests, with this program, it keeps dogs safe like deputies.”  

Just a few days ago, Duke, a San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office police dog in California, was stabbed to death while helping deputies capture a burglary subject. In 2015, Hyco with the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina was fatally shot while helping deputies capture suspected car thieves.

In December 2018, Gabo, a Jonesboro, Arkansas, police dog, was shot multiple times but saved by the protective vest covering his vital organs.  

Other Maine police dogs have received protective vests including Niko of the Rumford Police Department and Judge of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.

More than two decades ago, Marcal began networking with others interested in protecting dogs and began raising funds to buy body armor for police dogs. In 2009 Marcal founded Vested Interest in K9s, and since then the nonprofit organization has donated nearly 5,000 vests, costing $6.9 million, to law enforcement around the country.

“They are part of the community. They are part of the handler’s family,” she said.

Kimber is a drug dog, and she has been working with her handler Deputy Ryan Johnston since she was a pup, Seeley said.

The sheriff’s office applied to receive the custom vest from Marcal’s organization. The cost of the vests range from $1,744 to $2,283, depending on the type needed. Kimber’s vest will arrive in about eight weeks, Seeley said.

The vest donation program is open to U.S. dogs that are at least 20 months old and actively employed and certified with law enforcement or related agencies. Police dogs with expired vests are also eligible to participate, Marcal said.

For more information or to learn about volunteer opportunities contact Vested Interest in K9s at 508-824-6978 or vik9s.org,.

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...