Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UM police dog outfitted in bulletproof vest

By Katie Landeck

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When Diezel, a Dutch Shepherd police dog at the University of Massachusetts, went to visit Santa this holiday season, he was outfitted with a bulletproof and stab-resistant vest by Vested Interest in K-9s, Inc. (VIK).

The gift was part of the Helping Paws for the Holidays fundraiser sponsored by VIK, where people and animals could have their picture taken with Santa and the Grinch at the Pet Food Shoppe in Lakeville, Mass. The event was held every weekend in December and raised enough money to outfit 10 dogs with vests.

UMPD Officer Liana Varosky, who handles Diezel, was relieved and thankful to receive the vest. Her previous dog, Zeke, had one, but it did not fit Diezel properly.

“Having this extra protection gives me a little more peace of mind when deploying on high-risk canine calls,” said Varosky.  “It would be unwise to not wear my bulletproof vest to pursue a fleeing suspect that is armed with a gun,” she continued.

“When the UMass officers respond in number to the various civil disorder events that have been prevalent in this area over the last decade, we are provided extra equipment to protect us from projectiles and sharp objects. The same should be true for K9 Diezel.”

Diezel is certified by the North American Police Work Dog Association (NAPWDA) for narcotics and patrol work, which means he can find narcotics in buildings, vehicles and open areas, as well as helping to track missing people. He also works crowd control and demonstrations for the public.

“K9 Diezel is a resource for not only the UMass police officers, but also the local communities,” said Varosky, noting that Diezel has worked in Hadley, Amherst, Northampton, Hatfield, Easthampton and South Hadley. She also believes that “having a police dog also helps break the ice between us and the community with their approachable nature.”

Varosky pointed out, however, that many UMass students and community members may not be too familiar with Diezel “because K9 Diezel and I work overnights.”

The UMPD K9 unit started in 2003, and currently hosts two dogs, Varosky said, adding that such a donation from VIK is quite rare.

“Our department does not receive many donations for this specialized unit,” she said. “Having a protective vest will most importantly ensure the safety of my patrol partner, but it also safeguards the significant investment the University has made to purchase, train and maintain K9 Diezel.”

The average canine vest costs $735 and includes a five year warranty, but since Diezel works in crowd control, his vests offers more protection and, according to Varosky, costs closer to $1000.

In order to make this possible, Richard and Desiree Scully, a couple from Taunton, Mass., and Judee Harrington, another Bay Stater, stepped forward and made a donation through VIK.

The Scullys donated in honor of their nephew, who died at age 12. “He really liked dogs, and he just died too young, so we did this in honor of him,” said Richard. “Some of the money also went to help a dog out here in Taunton.”

VIK services dogs throughout Massachusetts and is run by Sandy Marcal. Marcal started the organization two years ago after having spent eight years volunteering at similar organizations. During 2010, the first full year of operation, VIK was able to purchase 26 vests. Currently, there are 15 dogs on the waiting list, but according to Marcal, the list changes almost daily. For more information go to www.VIK9s.org or call 508-824-6978.

“It is important to give these dogs vests, because they are also officers,” said Marcal. “They are the first ones sent into dangerous situations, so they should also be given protection.”

On Jan. 29, the UMass Police Department will be hosting a vesting ceremony for Diezel.  During the ceremony, police dogs from Wilbraham and Westfield and possibly Bosco, the other UMass K9, will be presented wearing their vests.

Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]

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