MECA Wisconsin Police K9 Vest Foundation

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by Jennifer Tomazic

GREENFIELD -- K-9 officers are just as important to keeping the community safe as human officers, but they don't always get the same protection. But there's a new organization that wants to change that.

It's called the MECA Wisconsin Police K9 Vest Foundation and it's goal is to outfit every police K9 in the state with a bulletproof vest.

Dr. Marla Lichtenberger came up with the idea after hearing horror stories from her clients at the Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals. She sees a lot of K9 officers and their partners and felt that the K9's needed to be protected just as much as the humans.

Police dogs are often at the forefront of the dangerous police activity.

"That's why a dog vest is so important. What we're doing, essentially, is putting the dog into harm's way so that we don't have to put the officers and handlers in harms way," said Sgt. Scott Zienkiewicz with the Greenfield Police Department.

Sgt. Zienkiewicz is one of two K9 handlers with the department and he's been fortunate enough to keep his dog, Badger, safe with a vest but the life span of one is about five years, and that will run out soon. He says dog vests are more expensive than human vests because they have to be customer fitted.

"If I have to make the decision between outfitting an officer with a vest or a dog with a vest, it's a difficult decision to make but obviously we have to outfit the officer first," said Greenfield Police Chief Brad Wentlandt.

He understands the need for the vest, though, as Chief Wentlandt was once a K9 handler himself. He and Sgt. Zienkiewicz agree that the police dogs are integral to the operation of their department and keeping the community safe.

"One of the happiest finds I ever had him find was a loaded gun that was discarded by a criminal and it was located on a playground in a middle school," said Sgt. Zienkiewicz about Badger.

The K9 has been seeing Dr. Lichtenberger for various reasons over the years, and her love for him is just one of the reasons why she wants to make sure every police dog in the state is safe.

"Animals are my life, from the minute I get up to the minute I go to bed at night," said Dr. Lichtenberger.

MECA Wisconsin Police K9 Vest Foundation is in its early stages and has just begun fundraising. On July 14, there's an event called MECA Vest-a-K9 Fest to raise money for the bulletproof vests. It at the Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, log onto http://www.mecavestak9policedogwi.org.

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