One of Hugo's primary duties is protecting his partner, and Hugo will always perform that and his other duties with unquestioning loyalty. But to perform that duty, Hugo, a Missouri State Highway Patrol search and tracking dog, has to get close to danger, sometimes close enough to bite it, and he had precious little to protect himself from guns and knives. That changed on Friday with a donation from a Kansas City-area foundation.
One of Hugo's primary duties is protecting his partner, and Hugo will always perform that and his other duties with unquestioning loyalty.
But to perform that duty, Hugo, a Missouri State Highway Patrol search and tracking dog, has to get close to danger, sometimes close enough to bite it, and he had precious little to protect himself from guns and knives.
That changed on Friday with a donation from a Kansas City-area foundation.
Donna and Jim Wilson, with the Going To The Dogs Foundation, gave Trooper Tim Barrett, Hugo's handler, and Hugo, a specially fitted canine vest proof against bullets and stabbing, giving Hugo almost the same protection his human partner has.
“I've been with Hugo since March 2016, we just reached our year anniversary,” Barrett said. “It's a good feeling, it'll put me at ease when we encounter those situations where the added protection is necessary, to know he'll make it home safe with me.”
Missouri State Highway Patrol Lt. Mike Watson, who coordinates the patrol's canine program, said vests like these for all 11 of its authorized canines have been on the department's wish list for years, but they've fallen victim to other priorities in the budget.
Currently the state has 10 canines, three operating in Troop D, which covers Southwest Missouri. It has authorization for one more dog.
“It's one of those things you have to look at and say what are your priorities when you're dealing with the officers,” Watson said. “Obviously training is a priority, medical issues, preventative medicine, and also any type of other emergencies that might come up are priorities. This was on our wish list or on our priority list, but it was one of those things that, depending on how the year goes, you see if you can afford it and that hasn't happened yet.”
Barrett and Hugo operate out of the Patrol's Carthage satellite office, located south of town at the interchange between Cedar Road and I-49.
Barrett said Hugo, a three-and-a-half-year-old German Shepherd, is a worker who loves his job. He lives with Barrett's family when he and Barrett are not on the road.
“If I leave home and have to go do an assignment without him, when I come home, he's almost pouting because he wanted to go to work,” Barrett said. “We work very well together.”
Meeting a need
Donna and Jim Wilson traveled from their Leewood, Kansas, home to present the vest to Hugo at the Carthage satellite office.
Donna Wilson, the director of the Going To The Dogs Foundation, said her group has given or has ordered 15 vests in the past year and three months for police canines in Kansas and Missouri.
The vest for Hugo was the third she's given to a Missouri State Highway Patrol dog, all in 2017.
“When I reached out to the Missouri Highway Patrol and found out there were 11 dogs in their service that needed vests, it became a huge challenge for me,” Wilson said. “I'm going to make sure every single one of them has a vest. We've been working with Mike Watson to get the dogs identified and doing it in kind of a stair-stepped approach. It just happened that Hugo was at the top of the list.”
Watson said trooper dogs in Troop A, Kansas City, and Troop H, St. Joseph, have already received vests. Two more are on order.
Each vest weighs between five and seven pounds and costs $950. They are custom-made to fit each dog and have a life-span of five years.
“Law enforcement has always been an interest to me, but what I've really been fascinated with is the canine because the canine is so smart,” Wilson said. “They're an equal working partner to the officers handler and I just know how important it is that they are equipped with the same protection as their handler.”
Barrett said Hugo was somewhat apprehensive about wearing his vest and didn't really understand what it was for, but he'd get used to it.
“We've had a few tracks where a vest would definitely have been beneficial,” Barrett said. “When you track you don't know 100 percent what you're going into so it's definitely beneficial in a situation like that. He doesn't know quite what's going on right now, but he'll adjust quickly.”