Duct work for Grim; High Plain students raise money for Vest-a-Dog program

TIM LIMA/Staff photoAndover police officer Michael Connor's K-9 partner, Grim, playfully jumps on him during a trip to High Plain Elementary School on Monday. The school's student ambassadors raised money for Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog, a company that works to provide bullet-proof vests for police dogs.

For a group of elementary school students, their artistic work with an ordinary material paid off in a special visit from a not-so-ordinary dog this week.

This fall, fourth- and fifth-graders involved in High Plain Elementary School’s committee of student ambassadors worked with colorful Duct Tape, creating goods such as purses, wallets, jewelry and book marks.

Forty-five rolls of donated Duct Tape later, the students earned $100 selling their creations at the school’s craft fair last month. The proceeds were then donated to Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog, an organization that focuses on funding bulletproof vests and first aid kits as well as training for police dogs.

The students’ efforts were rewarded this week when they were treated to a visit from Andover police officer Michael Connor and his 3-year-old partner, Grim.

“When the kids learned what Vest-a-Dog is, they voted and the majority wanted them to come,” said High Plain adjustment counselor Jill Celata, who is the adviser to the student ambassadors group along with fifth-grade teacher Shannon Siviski. “They gave up recesses and stayed after school to make things out of Duct Tape, and even gave up three hours on a Thursday night for the craft fair. They’ve been so excited.”

Grim, a German shepherd, focuses on finding narcotics and tracking down suspects who are fleeing police, Connor told about 30 students who gathered for Monday’s assembly. His sense of smell allows him to locate someone solely by his or her scent and he’s an expert on finding drugs on people and communicating to his partner exactly where they are, the officer said.

For example, by repeatedly rotating his line of sight from Connor to someone’s leg, Grim can share a very specific message without making a noise.

His job is serious, so he’s taken seriously, Connor added. As a result, the students weren’t allowed to pet Grim, for fear that a dog trained to be stern might not be accustomed to that level of admiration from youngsters. 

“He’s a cute dog, but he’s a working dog,” Connor said, adding, “He doesn’t hang out with my family, or anything like that.”

Grim was on his best behavior for the assembly, calmly laying still as Connor pet him. 

“All of the other dogs I see, when I go somewhere, they’re barking or jumping on me when I go into their house,” fifth-grader Jack Mohr said. “Grim was really calm, and wasn’t barking or anything. He was just looking around the room.”

Connor and Grim were accompanied by Kathy Hinds, a volunteer for Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog who travels the state to increase awareness of the job police dogs do and the importance of their safety.

Hinds thanked the students for supporting the effort with their contribution toward the purchase of a vest, which cost $800 each

“Across the entire state, there are around 330 police dogs and you’re really, really lucky because you guys have a K-9 right here in Andover named Grim,” she said.

Hinds said the cost of training police dogs is expensive. Each dog is trained to respond to commands in German and is kept in peak physical condition with the ability to jump up to 7 feet. First aid kits, carried by their operators, also prove costly, she said. 

“While law-enforcement agencies provide bullet-resistant vests for their human officers, they are unable to fund vests for K-9 officers,”  according to the Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog website. “As K-9s are trained to give up their lives to protect their partners and all of us, we believe it is every bit as important to protect them.”

To learn more about the Massachusetts Vest-a-Dog organization and its work, visit www.mavestadog.org/ws/pages/why-it-matters.php.

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