On Dec. 9, Eminence Middle School eighth grader Curtis Barrett presented a bullet-proof vest to the Shelbyville Police Department at an assembly in the school gymnasium.
Although not normally an out of the ordinary event, this vest was presented by a teenager to a dog.
Barrett met the beneficiary of the vest — German shepherd police dog Borys — under unusual circumstances.
Borys had accompanied his trainer, Shelbyville Police Officer Jeff McClellan, to search a car that had been towed to an auto shop — Pure Reflections in Shelbyville — owned by Barrett’s parents.
The car belonged to a criminal suspect, and Borys, a narcotics dog trained to sniff out caches of drugs wherever they may have been stashed, and McClellan were summoned to investigate.
Barrett got to see Borys at work and the seed of an idea took root. He realized that a drug dog, although “man’s best friend” to most, could be perceived as an enemy to the criminals he’s been trained to bust.
“If he’s going to put his life on the line,” Barrett said, “he should have the same kind of protection as police officers.”
McClellan said a K-9 unit constantly faces volatile situations. “We do a lot of search warrants, enter houses,” he said. “We take a lot of care before we send Borys in, but it is dangerous.”
Barrett decided to combine his concern for Borys with a school required service-learning project and raise funds to purchase Borys a bullet-proof vest. “This project was just what I was looking for,” he said.
Barrett said he also was inspired to link his project to law enforcement to honor his grandfather, Gary Wilson, a retired City of Louisville police officer. “He dedicated so much of his life to being a police officer,” he said.
Service-learning is a concept that combines community service with learning. The student must link a task to a benefit for the community.
Barrett researched and chose to hook up with the Vest-A-Dog Network.
According to its Web site, Vest-A-Dog was founded after an 11 year-old New Jersey girl read about a police dog killed in the line of duty. She found out that New Jersey humane societies had raised money to vest their police dogs and started Vest-A-Dog, Inc.
Barrett decided to ask those most likely to be affected by crime for support. He began canvassing Shelbyville businesses. His father, Rusty Barrett, said it was a daunting task for someone Curtis’ age to take on by himself.
“He came to me with the idea,” Rusty Barrett said, “and I joked ‘How about just getting him a new dog bowl?’”
Curtis came up with a list of business names, explained his project to business owners and collected all the money on his own. “I raised $1,025,” Curtis Barrett said.
Barrett told the assembly that the K-9 vests are made with Dupont Kevlar, the same material that human officers wear. They are bulletproof and/or stabproof. They also minimize blunt trauma injuries, which according to the Vest-A-Dog Web site, cause 60 percent of police dog deaths. “I felt it was very important that the dog be protected,” he said. “It’s the least we could do to protect him from crazy people.”
Shelbyville Police Chief Robert Schutte attended the event and spoke highly of Barrett. “I think it’s a great project,” Schutte said. “He took it on of his own volition. It was pretty impressive.”
McClellan also praised his efforts. “Now we have an extra level of protection for Borys provided by Curtis,” he said.
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