NILES - Two Belgian Malinois brothers - both police K-9s - got new uniforms Wednesday when a Howland couple donated ballistic vests to protect the furry officers that serve here and in Campbell.
Pino with Niles Police Department and Storm with Campbell Police Department even modeled the bullet-proof and knife-proof vests after they were outfitted by their handlers at police headquarters here.
The $1,000 vests and a $65 special harness for a K-9 with Warren Police Department were a gift from Suzanne and Bill Hunter of Howland, who made the donation in the name of their son Mark.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Campbell K-9 Officer John Gulu handles his dog, Storm, who is wearing his new bullet-proof vest.
Suzanne Hunter said her 47-year-old son died suddenly about a year ago and she wanted to do something on his behalf.
''I hope it gives other people the idea to reach out to the K-9s and their handlers. We called Howland police and they don't have a K-9 unit, so we got a hold of Warren police,'' said, explaining that Officer Sherry McMahon, a former handler in Warren, helped find a suitable place to make the donation. Warren police already have a vest for their K-9s.
''It sort of helps the grieving process. A lot of departments can't afford the equipment,'' Suzanne Hunter said. ''We read that there had been some 500 stabbings of the dogs on duty nationwide.''
She and her husband are dog lovers and have their own rescue dog from a shelter.
Officer John Gulu with Campbell police said he's grateful for any tools that help him and Storm, a 4-year-old that is the product of a community fundraising effort in Campbell.
''This will come in handy going into any house or business. The dog is always in front of the officer, and they can take the brunt of any attack,'' Gulu said.
The K-9s don't come cheap either, since they cost about $10,000 to $11,000, including dog the training and the basic equipment.
''Our cars serve as mobile kennels,'' Gulu said.
Officer Todd Mobley with Niles police said Pino is fitting in perfectly with the department's Strategic Response entry team that can be called on to rush into any type of building where there could be armed suspects.
''I'm just estatic. This kind of gift is rare,'' Mobley said.
Niles Chief Rob Hinton said any police K-9 unit is at risk since they're up front.
''There might be other officers on a perimeter, but the K-9s re right in the thick of it,'' he said.
K-9 Officer Mike Krafcik with Warren police was on hand with his K-9 Duco, and he was helping Mobley and Gulu adjust the vests for their own animals. Besides being from the same bloodline, Pino and Storm are the products of Tri-State K-9.