PELHAM — Every morning Zahn wakes up with a dual mission in life; to keep the streets of Pelham safe and possibly chase his yellow tennis ball around behind the police station.
A 3-year-old German shepherd trained to track and if necessary bite and apprehend a suspect, Zahn is often the first one to charge into a dangerous situation without a second’s hesitation.
He is also the pride and joy of his handler and roommate Eugene Stahl, a master patrolman and K-9 officer. The two have been working as partners for two years and their bond is ironclad.
“He’s had five felony apprehensions this year,” said Stahl as he tossed one more pass of the favored yellow tennis ball to the eagerly awaiting dog.
Given the dangers that Zahn and other working dogs encounter on a daily basis, he deserves the protection that every police officer on the force receives. And in January, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the missile securities team at Raytheon Co. in Woburn, Zahn, as well as Dracut’s K-9 star, Mason, will receive just that.
“Some of our employees learned about the Massachusetts Vest-A-Dog program and with further research discovered a local need in Pelham and Dracut,” said Raytheon Communications Manager Joyce Melikian. “So as part of a community-service project, fundraising efforts were organized by our securities manager Nancy O’Neil.”
Vest-a-Dog is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds to provide bullet- and stab-proof vests for police dogs across the country. Volunteers of the Massachusetts chapter have helped vest 180 Massachusetts police dogs.
Raytheon employees raised about $1,600, more than enough to purchase two vests. Both Zahn and Mason were fitted the second week of November for the donated vests, which are made of Kevlar and individually tailored to the size of the dog. Each weighs four to six pounds and can protect a dog in a shooting or stabbing. They cost about $750 a piece.
The Vest-a-Dog program not only provides protection for the dogs risking their lives every day, but also gives peace of mind to the officers standing by their side.
Last year, Zahn was stabbed during an arrest. Though his injuries were sustained mainly in the face and neck area, Stahl said having a vest for him to wear will alleviate some of his fears of Zahn being injured again.
Fear is the exact reason that Dracut K-9 Officer Bill Bailey also jumped at the opportunity to supply his partner Mason with a vest. Just one month after a Florida K-9 officer and his working dog were shot and killed in the line of duty, Bailey was approached with the offer.
Lakeland Florida Deputy Vernon Matthew “Matt” Williams, a 12-year veteran of the department, and his canine officer, Diogi, were both shot to death while in pursuit of a man pulled over for speeding.
“People are more likely to kill a working dog because they go running into the situation first,” said Bailey. “To me, Mason is irreplaceable. I couldn’t find another dog like him and I’m very thankful that this opportunity was presented to us.”
Donations for the Vest-a-Dog program can be mailed to MA Vest-a-dog, c/o Barnstable Police Association, 1200 Phinneys Lane, Hyannis, MA 02601.
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