“I was wearing my vest but here’s this dog – my partner – and he doesn’t have the same protection I have,” he said. “We have the best protection, so why shouldn’t our dogs?”
Because of that realization, Robbie now has a new outfit to add to his wardrobe: a snug, black, bullet-and stab-proof vest with the word “Sheriff” in bright-orange letters on the side.
Robbie’s vest was one of two donated earlier this month to the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office from Vested Interest in K9s Inc., a Massachusetts-based nonprofit.
Willis said he first reached out to Vested Interest in November because he wanted Robbie to be safe.
According to a press release, Vested Interest has donated more than 433 vests to more than 30 different police agencies within the past four years. The vests, made by Michigan-based Armor Express, are specially fitted for the dogs, and they’re the best you can get without a plate inside, Willis said.
Sheriff Larry Amerson said the four dogs his office owns risk their lives every day. All four are based at the Sheriff’s Office, but only two of the dogs, Robbie and Leo, go out with deputies on patrol or with the county SWAT team. The other two canines, Two-Paw and Skeet, are trained to find narcotics and bombs.
When Leo and Robbie go out on patrol, their jobs are usually to find and detain suspects, which can be dangerous, Amerson said.
“Say we’re looking for an armed suspect. We can send in the dog first. Obviously that’s dangerous for the dog,” he said.
Calhoun County Jail administrator and overseer of the K9 program, Eric Starr, said none of the county’s dogs have been injured by a knife or a bullet on the job.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page Inc., a Virginia-based nonprofit group that tracks police officer and dog deaths, 13 dogs have been killed in the line of duty this year; four from gunfire and one from a stabbing. None of the deaths were in Alabama.
Starr said the reason a lot of agencies don’t have specialty dog vests is because they’re extremely expensive. The two donated vests, which Vested Interest received government contract pricing for, originally cost $2,800. The nonprofit only paid $950 per vest.
Leo’s handler, Deputy Dustin Doss, said it’s nice his partner has a vest now because it’s easy for Leo to get injured on the job.
“We work with the SWAT team a lot, and I like to send him underneath houses and into attics. He’ll get a lot of cuts on his back from sheet metal and the vest stops that,” he said.
Doss, who is with Leo 24/7, said he treats him like any other dog when it’s not time to work.
“We’ll go out and play and goof off,” he said.
Willis said it’s not unusual for people to see him with Robbie at work every day and at night he sleeps at the foot of his bed.
“We have a special bond. I love him to death,” he said.
On Wednesday Robbie and Willis stood at the back door of a house. A man, wanted on capital murder charges, was barricaded inside. If he had refused to come out, Robbie would have been sent in to sniff him out, Willis said.
Only this time, the dog would have had the same protection as his handler.
Staff Writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.