PRINCETON — Mercer County Sheriff’s Lt. A.D. Beasley wears a bullet-proof vest to work every day. If one local school gets its way, his dog, Iska, could soon wear the armor as well.

Victoria Robertson and the students at Melrose School are putting their pennies to work for the Mercer County K-9s who serve and protect.

Victoria and her classmates were recently reviewing a “Weekly Reader” news story about “Penny Princess” Alyssa Mayorga, who decided to collect pennies to furnish the protective gear for police dogs who put their lives on the line to protect the officers and the public.

So far, the Garden Grove, Calif., 11-year-old has collected enough pennies to outfit 29 dogs with the bullet-proof vests, and the Melrose students are joining the cause to help local K-9s.

When Victoria took the “Save a Penny, Save a Dog” idea to her teacher, Ms. Burton, the class set to work collecting the coins.

“I just counted the last of our pennies,” Victoria said Wednesday. “We’ve raised $26 so far, and we need $400 to buy one vest.”

Only the fifth-grade pennies have been counted so far, and the rest of the school is now in on the effort.

“Our principal has announced about it, and now the whole school is bringing in pennies,” Victoria said.

Beasley, the K-9 director of the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department, met Victoria this week to express his appreciation, and to introduce Iska to the kids who are collecting pennies to help protect her.

“It’s great, especially from a fifth-grader. It’s great the kids are that thoughtful of us and our K-9 unit,” he said.

While none of the Mercer County dogs have ever consistently worn bullet-proof vests, Beasley said Augusta K-9 in Rocky Gap trained them with the gear.

“It’s a little cumbersome, a little awkward, at first,” he said. “It’s kind of like putting a muzzle on. The first time I put a muzzle on Iska, she hated it, tried to get it off. Now, she’s just like, ‘OK. It’s time to train.’”

There are currently five K-9s working with the Mercer County Sheriff’s deputies. The unit includes Beasley and Iska; Dep. A.M. Ballard and Quando; Dep. J.D. Ellison and Max; Dep. E.P. Parks and Arrow; and Dep. W.E. Rose and Boris.

“We have 24-7 coverage on our K-9 program,” Beasley said.

The dogs each spent 16 weeks in training before becoming active parts of the sheriff’s department. Each of the handlers also spent eight weeks in their training, and Beasley said the learning process continues all the time. At least two days a month are dedicated to continuing K-9 and officer education.

Beasley said the Mercer K-9s are used primarily in drug detection and apprehension. He estimated Iska could track a missing person or offender for approximately 8-10 hours, weather permitting.

“There’s a lot of good these dogs do,” he said.

With the rest of the school on board and the sheriff’s department cheering the students on, Victoria’s parents said they couldn’t be prouder of the little girl with a big heart.

“I think it’s a great idea. There are piles of pennies all over the ground. Why not stop, pick them up and do something good with them?” Sean Robertson said.

Sarah Robertson said it is also important for the community to recognize the resource the dogs represent.

“I think people forget all the dogs do for us. Take the cadaver dogs in New York, for instance. They really do a lot, and we need to remember that when they get shot, they hurt too,” she said.

For more information on Save a Penny, Save a Dog, contact Melrose School at 425-3757. For more information on the MCSD K-9 unit, contact Beasley at 487-8364.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net

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