Dog-Wash Fundraiser Serves, Protects Police K-9s
By Victoria Colliver
(Pyro, dog from right, explosive and bomb and patrol dog for San Francisco Police Department, plays ball with Roly Canales, right, at Pet Food Express on Saturday, June 30, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Pet Food Express holds a system-wide dog wash to raise money for flack jackets for local police dogs. Photo: Yue Wu, The Chronicle / SF)
San Francisco Police Officer Roly Canales showed off the new specialized alarm that helps keep his K-9 partner, Pyro, from overheating.
In case the air conditioning in the police car shuts off, the windows automatically roll down, a fan turns on, an alarm sounds and the system sends an alert to a pager-like device Canales keeps on his belt.
"That tells the whole world you'd better get to your dog in a few minutes, or you're going to have a hot dog," Canales, handler of the 7-year-old bomb-sniffing expert.
The $800 device, along with a $500 canine first aid kit Canales was just trained to use last week, are two of the new pieces of K-9 equipment the department was able to purchase with money raised through Pet Food Express' annual dog-washing fundraiser, which is being held this weekend.
Proceeds to charity
All the proceeds from customers washing their dogs at any of the 43 Pet Food Express stores go to support the nonprofit Cover Your K-9, an organization that provides customized bulletproof vests, heat alarms for patrol cars, first aid kits and other specialized equipment for working police dogs.
"Most of the agencies do not provide these for the officers - they have to fund these out of pocket in many cases," said Christine Vega, manager of the Pet Food Express store in San Francisco's Laurel Heights neighborhood.
An untrained K-9 can cost up to $10,000. But once the dog has been trained, an effort that involves at least three people and several months, the department has invested about $50,000 into the animal, said Sacramento County sheriff's Deputy Steve LeCouve, president of the Police & Working K-9 Foundation. That leaves little money for additional equipment.
The Pet Food Express dog-washing fundraisers have been able to collect about $250,000 over the past three years to help protect working K-9s.
Bulletproof vests needed
LeCouve said the first order of business was to raise funds for bulletproof vests that protected the animals but also allowed them to move freely.
"Dogs were getting stabbed, shot, kicked and assaulted on a regular basis," he said. "If we were able to buy bulletproof vests for humans, we needed to be able to do that for dogs."
Because the market for canine vests is much smaller than for humans, LeCouve said the vests available for dogs tend to be expensive and bulky for the animal. So the group designed its own high-tech, flexible vests and contracted to have them made for about $1,200 per vest, as opposed to about $3,000.
To date, the fundraisers have been able to outfit some 140 K-9s with vests. Because the need for vests has decreased, the group has started focusing on heat alarms and first aid kits for canine injuries.
Most of the customers who arrived at the San Francisco Pet Food Express store to wash their dogs were unaware of the fundraiser in advance but were happy to support the cause.
"I was just coming to wash my dog, but am so happy to see it - I love the K-9 unit," Cecelia Beam of San Francisco said as she washed her 14-year-old Border collie, Belle.
Save a K-9 fundraiser: Fourth annual Pet Food Express fundraiser for customized bulletproof vests, heat alarms for patrol cars, K-9 first aid kits and other specialized equipment for police dogs. Participants wash their dogs at any of the 43 Pet Food Express stores in the Bay Area. All the proceeds go to the cause. Through Sunday (July 1).
Cover Your K-9: www.coveryourcanine.com.