By Kelly Ryan

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) – The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department is thanking the community for coming to the aid of its canine officers.

The K-9 team had only a few ballistic vests available when one of the dogs was brutally stabbed by a suspect. The department then went to the media to reach donors interested in helping the entire K-9 team.

“He’s better than a human! Hahaha no, I’m kidding. He’s great, he’s a great partner!” said Deputy Joshua Stillman.

Deputy Stillman is talking about Haakon, an 8-year-old German shepherd who tips the scales at about 105 pounds. He’s a partner whose attack on the job almost ended his career and his life.

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“He was mostly cut from here to here — basically slit his throat and he got stabbed in the eye, a little scar on his eyeball right there.”

It was that incident that got the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department determined to add some ballistic vests for the canine officers.

“They are stab resistant as well as bulletproof vests, so if someone were to stab them in the vest it wouldn’t penetrate,” says Deputy Dave Gherardi, another officer.

The department appealed to the community, and many residents were happy to help.

“I purchased two vests for the dogs that were in need,” said Stockton resident Jackie Podesta. “It’s worth every dollar to protect those beautiful valuable dogs that risk their lives to protect the deputy that is with them.”

Shirley Bonuccelli also donated money to purchase vests.

“I was just happy I could afford to do a couple of vests. I wish I had done more!”  she said. “That one that had been injured, a vest could have possibly prevented that injury.”

Haakon has since recovered from his injuries and is back at work, with a vest. Three-year-old Rex has one too.

“He’s the newest member of the team so he didn’t have a vest,” says his partner Deputy Gherardi.

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Instead of just a couple of additional vests, the donations allowed the entire team of 12 canine officers to be outfitted with protective gear — a generosity the handlers are grateful for.

“It really helps every single one of us sleep better at night knowing our partners are protected,” he said. “I am thankful for all these people that open their hearts and their wallets to help us out.”

The canine protective vests are made in the locally in the Rocklin area and range in price from $1,500 and up apiece. They have a street life of about 5 years.

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