Blaine Max and K-9 Zorro

Brighton officer Blaine Max is pictured with K-9 Zorro after a cooling collar donation from Munford Animal Hospital.

Summer’s sun is a brutal beast this year between bouts of storms and rain. Add upper 90s and triple-digit heat indices to standard police equipment and it’s a recipe for misery. What happens if you add in a year-round fur coat?

The veterinarians at Munford Animal Hospital decided to help out as best they could with the dilemma: They gifted cooling collars and vests for each K-9 unit in Tipton County. Four for the sheriff’s office and one for each of the dogs at Atoka, Brighton, Covington and Munford police departments.

“We try to do a little something for the dogs each quarter,” Dr. Shannon Vawter, a member of the veterinary staff and chief coordinator of K-9 care at the hospital. “A little goodie basket, maybe some industrial-strength chew toys or some additional treatment, but we really wanted to go big this time.”

The MidSouth summer already caused several cases of heat exposure before June, and K-9s can expect to be out in the elements for extended periods of time with little notice. While vehicle air conditioning works wonders out of the sun’s rays, it does very little while the dogs do their jobs.

Vawter kept this in mind as she turned to one of her sources of inspiration for these care packages, Sgt. Jonathan Max with the Brighton Police Department. 

“I spoke with [Max] about anything the dogs might need,” she said, “and we came to the topic of cooling devices. Mats would be useless because the dogs would most likely chew them up, so then we moved onto cooling collars.

“Once I looked at the collars, I found out it would be no real stretch to buy vests to go along with them.”

Max and Vawter divided the workload: Max made played the part of a sounding board off which Vawter bounced her ideas and made phone calls to help narrow the scope of influence; Vawter, in his words, “did all the heavy lifting to make this happen.”

Treats became available at the front desk in the hospital, free with a donation to the cause. One donation came in the form of a $200 check. A GoFundMe page went live June 20 and reach $100 within its first day. By the month’s end, patrons brought the donations to more than $500, more than enough to provide gear to the K-9s of Tipton County.

So why stop there?

Max put in a call to the West Tennessee Drug Task Force during his efforts to help decide on the appropriate gift. Once he and Vawter found out how many pairs of collars and vests could be purchased, it seemed only logical to spread the wealth. Dogs affiliated with the taskforce – Fayette County, Haywood County, Memphis Police Department, Oakland Police Department, and Shelby County – would also be gifted a set of gear.

“Some dogs don’t have the same set up ours do,” Max said. “Zorro [Max’s K-9] sits behind my seat and the cage, so he gets air just fine. Some ride in the back of the vehicle and it takes time to circulate. The dogs and handlers will definitely appreciate these.”

That feeling of appreciation is mutual. A new K-9 handler can expect an emergency first aid kit when he or she reports for duty (and at his or her introductory examination). Should there be any cool gear packs left over, the next incoming dog can expect a set in addition to the kit. 

Just as the K-9s are on-call for service, so too are their physicians. The hospital partnered with Idexx Laboratories to provide lab work and tests at a discount rate for law enforcement agencies. 

No matter the time, handlers are guaranteed the best emergency care for their partners: They can reach Vawter any time on her personal cell. 

“We want to show these dogs how much we appreciate their service and ensure they have long, healthy lives once their service ends,” Vawter said. “Our clientele and our staff both understand just how seriously these handlers care for and worry about their dogs. It’s liking raising a child.”

Donations are accepted at the front desk of Munford Animal Hospital, 523 Corbitt Dr. You can donate to future K-9 gift projects or the Good Samaritan program, which helps pay for services in the event a client comes up short. Speak with anyone at the hospital to learn how you can help.

Echo Day is The Leader's managing editor. To contact her, call 901-476-7116 or email eday@covingtonleader.com.

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