Aroostook County drug dog Kimber wins a $5,000 equipment grant

HOULTON, Maine — Kimber, a narcotics detection dog for the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, won two $5,000 safety equipment awards just weeks apart. 

Last month the 3-year-old German Shepherd was granted a custom-made bullet- and stab-proof National Institute of Justice-certified vest from Massachusetts-based Vested Interest in K9s. Last week, Vested Interest founder Sandy Marcal surprised the Sheriff’s Office and Kimber’s handler Deputy Ryan Johnston with news of another win. 

Because Kimber was the 5,000th dog to get a vest, she will receive a $5,000 equipment grant, Marcal said. The organization benefits police dogs across the country.

Kimber’s funds will buy a kennel Insert and accessories for Johnston’s new Tahoe cruiser, he said. The insert will give Kimber a comfortable place to stay while on the job, and because it is equipped with heat sensors there is less risk of heat exhaustion, a life-threatening emergency. When temperatures inside the cruiser rise, alarms go off, the windows roll down and a fan starts, Johnston said. 

Police dogs can die from being left alone inside a cruiser because the air conditioning stopped working, the officer forgot their partner, or the vehicle just got too hot inside, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Indoor vehicle temperatures can rise over 100 degrees in minutes, even on a 70-degree day, said the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University

Although police dog deaths in hot cars are not reportable to a central database, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the American Society for the Prevention and Care of Animals say anecdotal evidence indicates 20 or more deaths each year.  

Marcal’s love of police dogs and the work they do spurred her to launch the nonprofit in 2009. Since then, Vested Interest in K9s raised over $6.9 million to fund body armor for police dogs. 

“This is a great program, “ Aroostook County Sheriff Chief Deputy Joey Seeley said. “All deputies wear bulletproof vests. With this program, it keeps dogs safe like deputies.”  

The sheriff’s office applied to receive the custom vest from Marcal’s organization. The vests cost from $1,744 to $2,283, depending on the type needed. Kimber’s vest, made to fit her exact measurements, will arrive in a few weeks. 

Kimber lives with Johnston and his family.

“When she’s not working, she’s pretty much like any other dog,” he said, adding that she enjoys the outdoors, working and likes to bark.

She has been training with Johnston since she was a pup and they have been through several extensive programs together, including 340 hours of drug certification training,  as well as monthly maintenance training, Johnston said. 

In the past year Kimber has helped police seize more than half a kilogram of illegal drugs and worked some big cases, Johnston said.

Marcal said the K9 vest program is well established and her next goal is to establish first aid training with a K-9 simulator. 

“It is an all new program that will teach handlers how to help their dog in the field,” she said.  “I would like to have four robot dogs for each region and the training will be at no cost to any department.”

The vest donation 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. Police dogs with expired vests are also eligible to participate, Marcal said. 

For information, contact Vested Interest in K9s at 508-824-6978 or