Ballistic Protection

Canine officer Jags shows off his new ballistic vest with handler Deputy Brian Parks and Suzanne Saunders, whose nonprofit helped raise the funds for the body armor.

Nonprofit, Windsor residents give gift of protection

A ceremony was held Aug. 5 to gift a Windsor Police Department service dog named Jags his first bulletproof vest.

Jags was the 89th canine to receive a donated vest from the nonprofit organization called K-9 Armor. Suzanne Saunders of San Rafael started creating the nonprofit in 2004 when she saw a special on Animal Planet about a police dog that was killed on duty.

“With a piece of equipment like (the vest), it could really save Jags’ life,” said Windsor Police Chief Chris Spallino during the ceremony for Jags.

Saunders noted that when she began researching for the nonprofit she found an overwhelming need to raise money in California for the vests, which are not normally provided by departments due to budgetary restraints.

“We actually do not have a budget to supply the dogs with this type of body armor,” said Lt. Tim Duke of Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO). “So without your support and donations this wouldn’t exist for us.”

Saunders said that she receives individual donations, which she then uses to purchase the vests for $900 at wholesale through Point Blank Body Armor, the same company that makes the safety gear the police officers wear.

Raising money for canine vests is now more commonly done, Saunders explained, but she is grateful to have the help.

“When I first started, no one was doing it,” Saunders said. “So now if they choose K-9 Armor – now that they have a choice – it’s still an honor and it’s still a victory no matter who gives them the vest.”

The money for Jags’ vest was donated by Elizabeth Acosta and Stephen Rios, Windsor residents.

“My husband and I have devoted our professional lives to public service and were looking at things that we could contribute to and help the community,” Acosta said. “We thought this would be a good way to do something locally.”

Jags, named by Spallino after the Windsor High School Jaguars, is a three-year-old German shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix. He is one of 10 canines that work with SCSO in areas such as handler protection, bite work and narcotics.

Deputy Brian Parks with the Windsor Police Department (WPD) went through training with Jags when he became his handler two years ago.

Parks explained that to certify Jags for patrol the pair went through a 200-hour course for master protection, suspect location and more. As a dual-purpose canine, Jags also completed a second 200-hour course in narcotics, which he became certified in locating heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. Once the 10 weeks of training was completed Jags received his certification, but he continues to do 20 hours of ongoing training per month with the other SCSO police dogs and their handlers.  

Parks and Jags are also a part of the SWAT team at the SCSO.

“Jags routinely trains with the SWAT team and his demeanor is really unique,” said SCSO police Sgt. Andy Cash, who is currently assigned to WPD and is in charge of the canine program. “He can be around a lot of people and we do not have to worry about him being overly aggressive.”

Parks noted that although at times being a handler requires long hours of hard work and training, for the most part working with a police dog is something cherished throughout the department.

“There’s not one guy who doesn’t enjoy it,” Parks said. “A lot of time you talk to people who have been handlers, and they all would most likely agree that the best part of their career was being a canine handler.”

K-9 Armor is now raising funds to buy a vest for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Daniel Negri’s police dog, Scout.

For more information on the nonprofit K-9 Armor or to make a donation, visit www.k-9armor.com.

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