PAWTUCKET — Project Paws Alive, a Florida-based national nonprofit that provides police dogs with bulletproof vests and other protective equipment, has kick-started a crowdsourcing fundraising effort to raise $18,000 to provide needed safety instruments and apparatuses for Pawtucket’s four police dogs.
With the target goal of $18,000, Project Paws Alive is seeking to raise money to purchase specialized military-grade K9 cooling vests, first aid field trauma kits, Narcan kits, oxygen masks, Kevlar boots, and vehicle monitoring and alert systems.
“We reached out, we know they have four K9s,” said Karen Caprio, vice president and co-founder of Project Paws Alive. “They typically handle healthcare and certifications, but newer units don’t have the funding to pay for the protective equipment. They got grants for the K9s but now on the other side, they need the equipment to protect the K9s.”
“We raise money so that the taxpayers are not impacted protecting these K9s … Once the fundraising is done, they will be protected for years,” Caprio said.
The four newest members of the Pawtucket Police Department were welcomed to Pawtucket earlier this year, as the city reintroduced its K9 unit for the first time since 2013. Joining the ranks alongside the city’s finest are two patrol dogs named Magno and Argo, a compassion and therapy Goldendoodle named Watson, and a search-and-rescue tracking Bloodhound named Neko.
Officer James Leach partners with Magno, Officer Gregory Malo teams with Argo, Officer William Figura works alongside Neko, and Det. Trevor Lefebvre is the handler for Watson.
Among equipment for the pooches, the Tactical K9 First Aid Field Trauma Kit with combat gauze military-grade kit contains specific supplies needed to treat a police dog for injuries ranging from gunshot and knife wounds to snake bites, according to the Project Paws Alive website. The kit provides tools to address major traumatic injuries common to canines operating in the law enforcement environment as well as common dog emergencies including heat injury and toxic ingestion.
Narcan kits will stop an accidental overdose if a police dog comes into contact with an opioid while on duty. According to Project Paws Alive, fentanyl is so lethal that an amount even as minuscule as a grain of rice could kill a dog. Narcan is designed to immediately reverse the effects of opioid overdoses.
The Project Paws Alive Narcan kit includes two separate nasal spray doses and a carry pouch which can be worn on the handler’s belt or vest to ensure constant and immediate access when needed.
Vehicles for the handlers would also be outfitted with the Ace K9 vehicle system, which is designed to monitor, detect, and protect the police dogs at all times, even when the handler is away from the vehicle. The units monitor and alert on vital components including temperature, vehicle battery voltage, engine stall, and include a door-popper system, according to Project Paws Alive. This system makes automatic corrective actions to the heat, such as opening windows and turning on fans, and it alerts everyone nearby with sirens and lights that go off if something is wrong.
“It not only measures the temperature in the vehicle, but with the technology behind it on a smart phone, handlers can monitor to make sure the dogs are protected at all times,” Caprio said. “When they have to go to court for four to six hours a day, it’s important they know what’s going on.”
Pawtucket Police Patrol Capt. Dave Holden, the department’s K9 coordinator, said the fundraiser is “an attempt to gain additional resources and equipment for the K9 unit for both the patrol dogs, the compassion dog, and the search and rescue dog.”
“This is another way to provide a little better and more updated technology just to make the dogs a little more effective and efficient. It would also provide them the same protection as our policemen and policewomen,” Holden said.
“In the line of duty, they’ve been fantastic. Their tracks have led to some arrests and possible evidence,” Holden said of the four dogs. “They’re a big hit within the community for sure. Everybody likes dogs, it’s a way to strike up conversations. Watson and Neko are an enormous hit, you want to pet them and relax with them, then people are at ease to speak with the officer.”
“Being approachable is a big part of police work,” he added. “It’s just another tool to talk to members of the community, to see and talk to them about the perspective of what’s going on while enjoying the comfort.”
Police Chief Tina Goncalves added: “The police dogs have been a huge asset to the Police Department. We have received an outpouring of support in the community for the police dogs. Project Paws Alive is an avenue that allows the citizens to support the police dogs in training and equipment.”
Caprio said her goal is for the $18,000 to be raised by April 30, so the equipment will be delivered and vehicles will be outfitted “before the heat of the summer gets to a critical point.”
Protecting police dogs has been a labor of love for Caprio since her work with the Department of Homeland Security, during which she became aware of the importance of dogs in police and fire departments and the military.
“Locally, K9s didn’t have protection, there was a gap for that. We looked into why that was, everyone has budgetary issues and K9s come last. There was a gap...” Caprio said. “They like to partner with us because we get top-of-the-line equipment, we take on the challenging ones, we know that once we’re done, they’ll be good for eight to 10 years.”
“It’s huge savings overall for the local town … It’s about protecting the K9s that protect all of us, keeping people and businesses and the community safe,” Caprio said.
All donations and sponsorships are tax-deductible. To make a secure online donation in any amount, visit www.projectpawsalive.org/pawtucket. To sponsor or pay for specific equipment items in full, scroll to the bottom of that page and click on the donation button for that item. Checks can also be mailed to: Project Paws Alive, 1193 SE Port Saint Lucie Blvd., Suite 289, Port Saint Lucie, FL. 30017. Make checks payable to Project Paws Alive and include “Pawtucket” in the memo line.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette