Resident provides safety vest for police dog

Gunfire is a possibility the Calera Police Department faces every time officers serve a search warrant, especially one that is drug related.

The threat of fired shots is countered, in part, by the use of bullet-proof vests.

However, one member of the Calera squad has participated in many of these missions without the aid of body armor.

Cheetah, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois, has assisted officers in every drug-related case during the last five years as part of the Calera K-9 unit.

The dog often leads the armor-clad officers across the street and into locations of suspected drug activity.

&uot;When we go on search warrants, you never know who is going to fire shots,&uot; said Officer John Stephens of the K-9 unit. &uot;(Cheetah) was always the only one without a vest on.&uot;

That will no longer be the case thanks to Calera’s Rhonda Johnson and contributions from local businesses and citizens.

On Oct. 24, Johnson presented the Calera Police Department with a bullet-proof vest designed specifically for police dogs.

The next time the unit serves a warrant, Cheetah will be protected by

more than 20 layers of Kevlar, the same bullet-proof fabric used in the vests worn by most uniformed police officers.

In addition to the K-9 unit, Stephens serves as the department’s DARE officer.

He and Cheetah are called to perform school searches, search warrants and the searches of cars, hotel rooms and any other narcotics-related cases.

Johnson raised $615 in three days to cover the cost of the vest, ordered from the Internet company Bullet Proof ME Body Armor.

She said she first got the idea from a television program about small police departments that didn’t have body armor for their dogs because of budget limitations.

A self-professed animal lover, Johnson said she immediately began making phone calls.

&uot;Almost everywhere I checked already had the vests except here,&uot; she said. &uot;I thought this was something I could do for Calera.&uot;

It was not the first time Johnson’s love for animals brought her in contact with the Calera Police Department.

&uot;My house is like a zoo,&uot; she said. &uot;The police have actually been called on my dogs for barking to much.&uot;

While Johnson may be concerned about keeping her dogs from disturbing neighbors, she will no longer have to worry that Calera’s police dog will go unprotected in the line of duty.

Making donations for Cheetah’s vest were: Standifer’s Animal Clinic, Halfshell’s Oyster Bar, Amvets Post #41, James M. Lewis, Kelley Jett, Margaret Nichols, Ambassador Limousine, P-Nut and Judy Lorino, Corey Scott, Brandon Brooks, Lloyd White, Brian Hartley, Rick W. and Rhonda Johnson