An anonymous corporate donor has offered to buy 18 armoured vests for Toronto police dogs in the hope of protecting the canines from violent offenders.
The Toronto Police Services Board will consider the offer at its meeting on Thursday. Given that each vest costs about $1,240, the donation is worth more than $22,000.
Staff Sgt. James Hung, spokesperson for Toronto Police Dog Services, said the offer is a generous one. The vests would help protect police dogs from offenders wielding sharp objects as well as natural hazards encountered while on the hunt, Hung said.
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"It would provide a layer of protection from knife-wielding suspects, any sharp implements. Even when they are searching a field or ravine, any sharp stumps or twigs, it would provide some protection to their vital organs," he said.
"I am very grateful and I am very thankful that someone thought that the protection and care of our dogs is a priority."
The Toronto Police Service would buy the vests from LOF Defence Systems, an Edmonton-based company that sells armour and equipment for police, military and security as well as K9 applications.
The vests, called K9 Streetfighter vests, are made out of a lightweight material. They can come with a variety of armoured inserts, for example, one that can stop handgun rounds, or another that protects against a knife attack.
Hung said the donor made the offer to police about six months ago, but it still has to be approved by the board.
Offer follows attacks on Lonca and Quanto
The offer comes after Lonca, a Toronto police dog, was injured when he was chasing a machete-wielding suspect in November 2015 during a bust of an alleged gambling ring in North York.
The German Shepherd was slashed, receiving five stitches to its upper lip and two staples to its paw, but he recovered fully.
"Luckily, it was nothing too serious," Hung said.
In October 2013, Quanto, a police dog in Edmonton, was stabbed several times by a suspect. He died of his injuries.
Quanto was a five-year-old German shepherd with four years of decorated service and more than 100 arrests to his name.
Toronto police have 33 dogs paired with 22 officers. Some officers have two dogs.
Hung said 18 out of the 33 canines are general purpose dogs that have been trained to search for and track suspects as well as missing people. The dogs are trained to apprehend suspects by grabbing them with their teeth and holding on until officers arrive.
The canines include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Springer Spaniels. There are Dutch and Italian shepherds in the mix, too, he said.
Hung said the dogs will have to get used to the vests.
"Our dogs are trained to wear harnesses and collars. There may be a bit of a training period, there may a bit of acclimatization, but after a bit of time, they should get used to it," he said.
The vests, which weigh slightly more than three pounds, will wrap around the dog's back and front chest area and will be fastened to the animal through straps and clips. They duplicate as harnesses, he said.
Once approved, the vests will take approximately six to eight weeks to arrive.
"I am hoping that the donation is approved and we can move ahead and begin training with the equipment so the canines can have protective equipment as well as officers," he said.
"Any protective equipment is good to have. You have to prepare for unexpected things. It's nice to have extra protection."
Duncan Horner, business development manager for LOF Defence Systems, said the vests are a good idea given the amount of money spent on training the dogs.
"Tens of thousands of dollars are invested in these police dogs from breeding to training," he said. "It's a very small investment to ensure those animals are protected. They deserve the same protection that law enforcement officers are wearing."
Horner said the Streetfighter vest was designed after Quanto's death.
"There was a gap in the market. There were a lot of companies creating armoured vests for police dogs — unfortunately, the vast majority of those vests were very heavy."
"We designed the Streetfighter to be very lightweight so it wouldn't restrict the dog's ability to move, jump, run and apprehend a suspect, and so that it would be comfortable and the dog could wear it for a full shift."
A ballastic insert can stop certain handgun rounds, while the "spike/slash" insert can stop knife threats, Horner said.
The Toronto Police Dog Services unit, which has existed since 1989, carries out searches for armed suspects and contains premises when high risk search warrants are executed. Its canines search all kinds of urban areas in Toronto, including backyards to wooded spaces, factories to residences.