Living a dog's life might not always be easy, especially for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office canine officers.
Evans Middle School eighth-grader Matthew Wehman, 14, passes a bulletproof vest for a dog to Columbia County sheriff's Deputy and canine handler Patrick Haynie as his 5-year-old German shepherd, Thor, takes a sniff. Matthew raised more than $500 to buy the vest to protect the office's four dogs.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
Because of one Martinez boy's recent efforts, however, life should be a little safer for at least one of the police department's special dogs.
Matthew Wehman, 14, spent three years raising more than $500 to purchase a bulletproof vest for the sheriff's office's four dogs and presented the vest Feb. 21 to Thor, a five-year sheriff's office sergeant, and his handler, Deputy Patrick Haynie.
"I don't know what to say,'' Haynie said as he accepted the vest with Thor by his side. "We do appreciate it very much. It's a good thing you did. It makes me feel a lot better sending (Thor) into some of those situations. I don't have to worry about him getting shot."
Matthew, now an eighth-grader at Evans Middle School, started fund-raising for the vest as a 4-H project in the fifth grade. Matthew knew a little about how the canine unit works and what the dogs do because his brother-in-law, sheriff's office Investigator Jimmy Edmunds, was a canine handler when Matthew started the project.
"I had read a book in 4-H about a girl in California that had done the same thing," Matthew said. "And I wanted to help our dog unit in Columbia County to keep them safe and to help keep crime off the streets."
Matthew placed collection jars at local businesses, including Wachovia Bank and Columbia Veterinary Hospital. He also talked to private residents about donating funds toward the purchase.
The Kevlar vest is the same material as the bulletproof vests worn by sheriff's deputies every day to protect them from gunshots and other hazards.
"The police officers need protection, too, but the dogs, they go into more dangerous situations," Matthew said. "They are just as valuable to us as a policeman."
The canine unit is made up of four dual-purpose dogs - two trained to detect bombs and two others, including Thor, trained to sniff for narcotics. All serve as protection to their handlers and are used to track fleeing suspects or lost persons.
Haynie said the extra protection for a dog that is part of his family is comforting.
"I've had (Thor) for five years. He's been around longer than my children," he said.
He said that sometimes the dogs venture into dangerous territory after armed suspects or into hazardous locations and can be more effective than a group of armed deputies.
"It's funny, you can have 20 deputies chasing a guy with guns and the guy is not giving up," Haynie said. "You put one dog on the ground and the guy is like, 'Hey, don't let the dog get me. I'm coming out.'"
Matthew said it felt good to see his project completed and to meet one of the dogs that the vest will protect. Haynie said the vest will be kept in the office to be rotated among the canines in the unit.
Matthew said the idea of starting another project to buy more vests for the canine unit is a possibility.
Haynie said Matthew isn't old enough for a ride-a-long to see what his unit actually does, but when he is, Haynie said, he'll let Matthew ride shotgun.
"Since you did this for us, I'll let you come ride with us," Haynie said.
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