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Armored Vest For Police K9 Unit
Sam the police dog, who went on duty in Riverbank last September, has been equipped with a ballistic vest just like his handler Deputy Marcie Matos.

It's not exactly the same, of course, but in both cases the vest covers vital organs like heart and lungs. It will stop a bullet from a handgun and offer a higher level of protection for the canine officer.

Worth $875, the armor was donated by the Suzanne Saunders K-9 Armor Foundation, a non-profit group that has equipped many police dogs throughout California. The formal presentation was made recently in Modesto.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department now has seven of its nine police dogs equipped with ballistic vests and plans on acquiring two more suits of body armor soon.

The vests are made of the same Kevlar and cotton materials that protect soldiers in combat besides police officers on the street.

Sam finds the vest restricting and hot at this time of year and is still getting used to it, said Matos, as she strapped the padded jacket around his body for a demonstration on Friday.

The dog will only wear the armor when they are dispatched on a high risk call where police know or suspect that guns are involved, she emphasized. He doesn't have to wear it all the time.

Police dogs need the vests as much as their handlers because they are generally leading the way and liable to be shot at first in incidents like searches of a building for a suspect or a felony probation check, she said.

Matos recalled an incident a few weeks ago in Stockton where a dog was shot in the face and the bullet passed through the side of his head into his jaw and mouth, but she didn't know whether or not the animal was wearing a ballistic vest.

Sam is a Dutch Shepherd, four years old and weighs 65 pounds. He lives with Matos besides working with her. Matos has no other dogs.

Since starting patrol duty last September, Sam hasn't yet made any "apprehensions" but he has three surrenders to his credit where the suspect sees the dog and gives up without further trouble.

"But an apprehension can happen any day. You never know," said Matos. "He'll probably get a steak that day as a reward. We get along pretty good. I know him pretty well and he knows me."

At the age of four, Sam is likely to continue serving with the police for another five years.

"Then I'd like to retire him and give him at least a couple of years in retirement," said Matos.