When Ahwatukee Fry’s store manager Bill Vasquez saw a story years ago about a Phoenix police dog being hurt and killed in the line of duty, his heart ached.

Vasquez has always loved dogs, especially German Shepherds. The idea of a loyal dog like that running into a building for his owner and never coming back out just broke his heart.

“The thing that stuck with me is he said he was looking down at that dog at the end and the dog was looking back like he had done something wrong,” Vasquez said. “Even at the end that dog was faithful always.”

He decided then that if he ever had an opportunity to help the K-9 unit of the Phoenix Police Department, he would.

Vasquez finally got his opportunity through his job at Fry’s grocery store at Ray Road and Ranch Circle Drive. He met the man who owns PlayWorks and asked him for help creating an item, a dog house, that could be raffled off in the store to raise money for ballistics vests for the dogs.

The raffle originally began in early July, but when the winner was drawn she donated the dog house back to the store to raffle off one more time with the hope of raising even more money.

So far, the store has donated one vest and the raffle has raised more than $1,700. Each bullet-proof and stab-proof vest costs $650-$700. Vasquez said his goal is to raise enough money to provide the city with four new vests for the K-9 unit.

Phoenix’s K-9 unit has 17 dogs. While they try to provide vests for the dogs normally, the vests do have a shelf life, said Sgt. Rich Maiocco, who works in the unit. They also have three new dogs that were just added to the group.

The vests purchased from this raffle will go to the new dogs and any extra vests will replace older ones that are getting worn out. Without this raffle, the police department would not be able to afford the vests for the dogs, Maiocco said. The vests are too costly for the department to budget for right now.

“The sad thing is they’re such an asset for us,” Maiocco said. “Who knows how many lives they’ve saved or injuries they’ve prevented.”

The canines in the unit help track criminals on the run, sniff out drugs, find evidence and victims, alive or deceased. The dogs are also trained in handler-protection and tracking. They support patrol officers by going on a scene first with their nose and providing an early warning sign to search teams. Beyond their help in the field, the dogs are a part of the family for their handlers.

“The dogs go home with us and become part of the family with the wife and kids,” Maiocco said. “You spend all your time at home with them and then you bring them to work for 40 or more hours a week. They are tools that we purchase and use for a specific reason, but in the end man’s best friend is the dog and they become very close with their partners.”

Maiocco said he was surprised by the Ahwatukee community’s response to this raffle. Many people call with good intentions wanting to do something for the dogs, but the cost of the vests is often daunting and scares many groups away.

The raffle will go through Saturday, Aug. 24. Tickets are $5 for one or three tickets for $10. Tickets can be purchased at the guest services desk at the front of the store, at 3616 E. Ray Road.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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