OXFORD — When Jen Robichaud needed to create a senior project to benefit others, it was not hard for her to come up with an idea.
She loved animals. She was part of her high school’s law-enforcement program.
How ’bout raising money to buy bulletproof vests for Maine police dogs?
“It just kind of fell into place,” she said.
Almost 10 years and seven vested police dogs later, that project is still going. And now it is a family affair.
“We just never stopped,” said her father, Wayne Robichaud.
He is now the organizer, setting up a Go Fund Me page and collection jars at area businesses with his wife, but everyone in the family helps — including Jen’s 8-year-old daughter and her two younger brothers, both of whom are high school students.
While the adults do the driving and the Go Fund Me work, the children help pick up and drop off donation jars and are there whenever a vest is presented to a dog.
“Now it’s her turn and my brothers’ turn for the experience,” Jen said.
Maria, a York County sheriff’s K-9, was the first police dog to get a vest from the family and the one who fulfilled Jen’s high school requirement in 2009. Since then, there have also been vests for Gunther from Old Orchard Beach, Ranger from Saco, Maxi from Falmouth, Taz from Portland, Ailos from Lewiston and Rocky from Auburn.
“His safety is paramount for us, just as well as human officers,” said Rocky’s partner, Auburn officer Donald Cousins.
Rocky, a tracking and drug-sniffing dog, has worn his vest in three high-risk situations since he got it in 2013. In all three cases, he was tracking someone armed with a knife.
“(Three times) may not seem like a lot,” Cousins said, “but what if he were stabbed or shot? Even one use to save his life or protect his life is vital.”
The vests cost about $900 each, which can be difficult for some police departments to afford. The Robichauds on average are able to buy and donate about one vest a year.
The family took a break from active fundraising a few years ago while Wayne underwent back surgery. Now that he is fully recovered, they have jumped back into it.
Wayne, who has two dogs, could not imagine stopping for good.
“If the dogs are out there protecting us and a bad guy was after them and was going to shoot or stab them, why not be able to save them? They’re not just some thing,” he said. “You’ve got to care if this dog dies.”
Wayne plans to seek formal nonprofit status for the project so corporations will be more likely to donate and donors will be able to deduct their contributions.
The family has donation jars at about 20 businesses in western Maine. They are raising money for a Portland police dog.
“If we could do it for one,” Jen said, “why not keep it going?”
Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.