K9 deputy suits up for duty

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, March 9, 2023

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The Lowndes County Sheriff’s K9 deputy, Agi, is suited up and ready for action after receiving a bullet and stab protective vest thanks to a charitable donation from non-profit organization Vested Interest in K9s, Inc.  

K9 Agi’s vest was embroidered with the sentiment, “This gift of protection provided by Vested Interest in K9s, Inc.” and serves to help protect her from injury in the line of duty. The department applied for and was granted the vest to help ensure Agi can serve the people of Lowndes County for many years to come.

“We want to protect our deputies’ safety and lives by issuing ballistic vests,” said Sheriff’s Lieutenant Nick Cognasi. “Agi is no different in that regard. We invested a lot of time and resources into her, so we want to make sure she provides the longest amount of serviceable time to the Sheriff’s office and to the citizens of Lowndes County.”

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Vested Interest in K9s, Inc., established in 2009, is a 501(c)(3) charity whose mission is to provide bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States. Cognasi said this potentially lifesaving body armor for four-legged K9 officers is U.S. made, custom fitted, and National Institute of Justice (NIJ) certified. 

Since its inception, Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. has provided over 4,970 ballistic vests to K9 officers in all 50 states at a value of $6.9 million, made possible by both private and corporate donations.   

“We’re a small Sheriff’s office,” Cognasi said. “It’s not like we have dedicated money to go towards things that larger departments have. Being able to have this grant keeps money where it is allotted, whether it’s fuel for patrol cards, training for deputies, uniforms, or other things.” 

The grant  program is open to U.S. dogs that are at least 20 months old and actively employed and certified with law enforcement or related agencies. K9s with expired vests are also eligible to participate.  An estimated 30,000 law enforcement K9s serve across America. 

Unlike bite-trained K9s, Agi is trained only for narcotics searches and tracking. She has already worked in missing persons searches, assisting Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officers search for persons attempting to flee during traffic stops.

According to Cognasi, citizens do not always realize Agi’s purpose on the force. Some, he said, may see her as a threat, which makes her a target and vulnerable like any other deputy.

“There’s a lot of preconceived notions for police K9s,” Cognasi said. “When people see Agi, they automatically think she is a bite dog when she’s not. Ultimately, she has an affinity for her handler and if push came to shove, she would protect Sergeant (Michael) Speigner. We want to make sure she has as much protection as possible.”

According to Lowndes County Sheriff Chris West, the prospect of someone shooting Agi is more likely now than ever before.

“People do shoot dogs,” West said. “The vest is another line of defense for Agi. We definitely want to keep our dogs safe.”

Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. accepts tax-deductible contributions in any amount, while a single donation of $960 will sponsor one vest.  Each vest has a value of $1,744-$2,283, weighs an average of 4-5 lb., and comes with a five-year warranty.  For more information, or to learn about volunteer opportunities, please call 508-824-6978. Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. provides information, lists events, and accepts donations at www.vik9s.org or by mail at to P.O. Box 9, East Taunton, MA 02718.