FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Vesting America’s Police K-9s is a national charity organization that started in an effort to vest all of America’s police dogs.

The Grant Town Police Department is receiving help from the organization’s West Virginia chapter to get K-9 Griz vested for duty.

“This group has helped vest K-9s in Ohio already, we are the first for West Virginia,” Grant Town Mayor Brad Shahan said.

According to the West Virginia chapter’s website, the mission is to provide bulletproof and stab-resistant vests to West Virginia’s police K-9s at no charge.

“Police K-9s, like their handlers, risk their lives on a daily basis to protect those they serve,” the wvvapk9s.com website said. “Many law enforcement agencies have limited budgets and cannot afford to vest their K-9s. This is our opportunity to keep them safe while they keep us safe.”

Grant Town Police Chief Les Clifton handles Griz. Griz is a 3-year-old German shepherd. Clifton said Griz is certified in patrol.

“I can run him around vehicles, he is trained in narcotics (detection) and I can also use him to assist in apprehension if needed,” he said.

West Virginia chapter president Beth Menzel began the chapter in the state after the need was brought to her attention.

“I am actually out of Ohio and our local K-9s weren’t vested,” she said. “We decided to go ahead and vest them. I found out that West Virginia was not covered with a representative, and I am literally 15 minutes from West Virginia. I (decided) to take it over.”

According to Menzel, Clifton was the first to contact her to get his K-9 vested.

To raise the funds for each police dog, Vesting America’s Police K-9s begins a Go-Fund-Me account.

“Once we find a dog handler team that needs a vest, all they have to do — whether we contact them or they contact us — we start raising funds for them,” Menzel said. “Once they have the $800 and want to get the better, lighter vest we can get that for them. We start a Go-Fund-Me page for that dog, and once they hit the age of 2 and they get the money, we order the vest and either take it to them or ship it to them.”

Menzel said the account has currently raised $340.

The vests are meant to save the dogs’ lives, just like a human officer. Menzel hopes this program will protect the K-9s to avoid situations similar to one in Ohio.

“Here in my local area, we actually had a dog that was stabbed,” Menzel said. “They had sent him in on a raid and he came face to face with the suspect and he was stabbed. He, after that, had to leave the force because of the trauma of being stabbed left him with some muscular issues. That dog that the county had paid $18,000 for training and for the dog, wasn’t able to be used again.”

Clifton said vesting Griz is crucial.

“Being from Grant Town, there is only one officer here, so it is extremely vital and important we have him,” he said. “Some of the scenarios we may be encountered with are situations such as entering a house, entering a building, clearing a residence or even apprehending a suspect that may be armed with a knife. You never know if they are armed or unarmed, so having that vest greatly increases his chance of survival. It gives him some added protection just as a police officer would have himself because sometimes the dog would be the first contact.”

Menzel said the vests are similar to those that the handlers wear.

“They have a five-year shelf life because of the way that they move and stuff, the seams eventually will come loose,” she said. “They withstand a .44 (magnum point blank) and a 4-inch ice pick or ice blade. Each one is sized to that specific K-9. We actually take exact measurements … so if they maybe have an older K-9 that is retired, that vest won’t transfer to the new dog.”

According to the chapter’s website, the vest is 2 1/2 pounds, is flame-resistant, made of Kevlar and is manufactured by Bullet Blocker in Boston, Massachusetts.

Menzel added that donations for businesses are tax deductible.

“For businesses, it is a tax writeoff if they write it to the national association part of us and they can always say if they want it to go to a certain K-9,” she said. “Our main goal is just to vest all the K-9s we can.”

Information from: Times West Virginian, http://www.timeswv.com