On Aug. 25, 2014, an Oklahoma City Police officer and his partner were in pursuit of a robbery suspect. The officer’s partner took several stab wounds and later died in surgery. The fallen member of the police department was Kye, a K9.
The incident shows how dangerous the job can be, for man and dog.
The Choctaw Nation Tribal Police has a K9 on the force. His name is Gitano, and he is a lot safer now when he goes to work. In May, Gitano received a custom-made, stab-proof and bulletproof vest.
The jacket weighs 40 pounds and covers much of Gitano’s 90-pound body. It is valued between $1,795 and $2,234. After an application process that qualified Gitano, the new protective gear was free. Acquired from the Massachusetts-based non-profit company Vested Interest in K9s Inc. and it comes with a five-year warranty. For Gitano, it could be a lifetime warranty.
It means a lot also to Gitano’s handler, Choctaw Nation Police Officer Zach McIntyre.
“Having the vest makes me feel good, I don’t have to worry about him as much,” McIntyre said. “I know if something were to happen, that he has that extra protection which is the key at the end of the day, to be safe and go home.”
McIntyre is a 27-year-old Choctaw; Gitano is a five-year-old Belgian Malinois. But, McIntyre said, Gitano is as much Choctaw as he is.
As a puppy, Gitano (the name is Italian for Gypsy) traveled from overseas, then trained at Little Rock K9 Academy in Arkansas. The two first partnered up with members of the Town of Calera Police Department. They came as a team to the Choctaw Nation in October 2014, a month after the death of Kye.
Upon McIntyre’s completion of the application for the vest, he and Gitano had to wait several weeks for it to arrive. Although American made, each vest is custom-made for the individual K9. Also, Vested Interest in K9s Inc. (www.vik9s.org) relies on donations and volunteers and has outfitted hundreds of police dogs nationwide.
Gitano has been working on the streets for almost four years.
McIntyre said, “All he knows is work, to be a working dog. He lives it, and he loves it.”
But, Gitano is more than his partner. Anywhere McIntyre goes, Gitano goes.
“After their training, they are one-person dogs,” he said.
As a K9, Gitano is required to continue training regularly. McIntyre had to go initially through a week-long handler’s course and now schools side-by-side with Gitano.
“We train with the Durant Police Department twice a month. The state requires a minimum of 16 hours of training a month to keep the dog reliable,” McIntyre said.
Now, Gitano has to do additional hours, so he can learn to work effectively while wearing his new vest.
Although he has no “street takedowns,” Gitano has helped in many “busts.”
McIntyre said, “We have seized lots of vehicles, thousands of dollars of drug-related money, drugs.”
While with the Calera Police Department, Gitano sniffed out more than 100 grams of methamphetamine in one vehicle, with a street value of approximately $11,000 to $12,000.
According to McIntyre, an advantage of having a K9 as a partner is because it won’t think twice about responding. Humans have naturally delayed reactions. Dogs don’t think about themselves, they just help and do what they know.
Criminals, however, do need to stop and consider before trying to harm four-legged law agents – because it is now a federal offense. Under the Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act, “anyone convicted of purposely assaulting, maiming, or killing federal law enforcement animals such as police dogs and horses could be fined at least $1,000 and spend up to 10 years in prison.”
Gitano also is a big intimidation factor. McIntyre said, with a K9 in the car, or when it barks, a suspect usually does not try to run, and that plays a significant role in the safety of both officers.
Still, there is always the risk of injury, and that’s why the vest makes a difference.
McIntyre said, “This is extra safety for Gitano because anything can happen on a traffic stop, or when you are helping people. Some people could just come and start shooting at Gitano or me, and this is just extra protection for him.”