HURRICANE — A St. George resident got to see her contribution to the Utah Highway Patrol for the first time Saturday, when she met with Titan, one of UHP’s 10 service dogs, who was sporting a new stab and bulletproof vest.
Titan, a Belgian Malinois, serves in Washington County with UHP Trooper Chris Terry. Titan lives with Terry, trains with him and puts his life on the line with him every day.
Terry, as is the case with most law enforcement officers in the U.S., wears a vest under his uniform that keeps most of his vital organs protected.
Titan, like many other K-9 officers, used to go out day after day without the same protection.
When St. George resident Margaret Manazer heard about Titan and other service dogs in Southern Utah that lacked vests, she decided to give local law enforcement a Christmas present, writing out a check for $950 of her own money on Dec. 25 to get a brand new vest.
After doing some research to find a vest that would provide the best protection, she decided to go through a nonprofit specializing in vests for K-9 units.
The nonprofit she used is Vested Interest in K9s, which focuses on vesting K-9 officers in agencies that are underfunded or don’t have a budget for vests.
While vests usually cost about $1700 to $2200, Sandy Marcal, the founder of Vested Interest, said the nonprofit receives a government contract price from their U.S. manufacturers, allowing Manazer to fund an entire vest for $950.
Of the vest, which Manazer finally got to see, she said, “it’s beautiful.”
Manazer and UHP started the application process in about September or October 2014, and once they went through the application process and making a vest for Titan’s measurements, Titan got his vest in April 2015.
Manazer is just one of many people in Southern Utah working to get local police dogs vested.
She decided to help after meeting the ladies running the Vest Dixie’s K9’s fundraiser, including Kris Neal, who helped connect her to Terry and Titan.
Vest Dixie’s has been working to raise money to get more vests for the K-9 officers in law enforcement agencies across Washington county.
They have also started going through Vested Interest to reduce liability, since Vested Interest works directly with the dog’s handler and provides certified vests.
The certified vests are rated using similar standards to vests that human law enforcement officers wear.
This protection is important for Titan, Terry said, since the dog is with him all day long, helping to apprehend suspects, sniff out drugs and sometimes track people.
“He’s a police officer. I mean, I wear a vest and he deserves every right to be protected just like me,” he said. “… if you look nationwide, there are a lot of K-9s that are killed every year.”
Titan’s vest is important for Terry as well, as it helps give him some peace of mind.
“He’s my family,” Terry said.
There are 10 UHP K-9s currently, Terry said, and some are vested, while others aren’t, just as some Washington County K-9s across different agencies still need the protection.
Terry said he thinks many dogs still aren’t vested because people are still just starting to see how dangerous it is for law enforcement dogs out in the field, and because the vests are just an added expense to an already costly program.
While protecting police dogs is something that tugged at her heart, Manazer said there was a financial aspect to her decision, as well.
“You also have to realize, they spend so much money, $20(,000), $30(,000) or $40,000 to train one dog,” she said. “And that in a heart’s beat, they can be shot down or beat down or injured seriously so (the vest) is protecting a lot of money that’s been spent.”
Donating the vest is part of a tradition Manazer has of trying to give something to the community every Christmas.
This was a costly year, she said, but she still hopes to give more to Vested Interest in future years.
“For me it was a lot,” she said. “But it was worth every penny of it.”
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