Bulletproof dog: Federal Way K-9 cop scores a ballistic vest

Lake Dolloff Elementary kindergarten teacher Jeanne Epp poses in her classroom with Federal Way police officer Matt Novak and K-9 officer Fax. Epp
Lake Dolloff Elementary kindergarten teacher Jeanne Epp poses in her classroom with Federal Way police officer Matt Novak and K-9 officer Fax. Epp's students donated money they earned by doing chores to help buy Fax a ballistic vest.
— image credit: Courtesy of Jeanne Epp

Generous donations from a resident and a kindergarten class rounded out the money needed to put a Federal Way police K-9 into a ballistic vest.

Fax, a 2-year-old German shepherd, was purchased by the police department in 2007. He is one of three police dogs owned by Federal Way and the only one with the city's force that does not currently wear a ballistic vest. The item costs upwards of $2,500.

Crestwood Animal Hospital began a fundraiser for the vest in January. Donation cans were placed at several businesses and the effort raised most of the needed money. But a $500 donation from local resident Ayako Gibbs, and another $171 from teacher Jeanne Epp's Lake Dolloff Elementary kindergarten class, put the donations over the top.

Epp and her students became involved when Epp read of Crestwood's fundraiser. She invited Fax and his handler, officer Matt Novak, to her classroom. Epp asked the children's families to support them in their efforts to do chores at home to raise money toward Fax's vest.

They gave $171. The children each presented their earnings to Novak and Fax in a small coin bag. They then got their photo with the police duo.

"The kids felt very proud," Epp said. "It was just the coolest thing."

The experience taught the kids the value of engaging in the community, Epp said. They also began to learn the value of money, she said. Additionally, the visit taught the kids what Novak and Fax do — and their role as community protectors, Epp said.

"One of my goals with my students is to foster an awareness of giving, of kindness, of community service," she said.


A personal tragedy inspired Federal Way resident Ayako Gibbs to participate in the fundraising effort.

When she returned home one day, she was unable to locate her service dog. She phoned police, who later found the dog deceased in Gibbs' yard. Officers consoled Gibbs and stayed with her several hours until she calmed. The officers returned in the following days to check on Gibbs. As a token of her appreciation to the police department, Gibbs contributed to Fax's vest.

"This is just another example of our great community coming together to meet a need," said Brian Wilson, Federal Way police chief. "The fact that one of our citizens noticed the high level of service commonly provided by our officers makes such a large donation like this even more impressive."

The department is expected to soon place the order for the ballistic vest, which protects against most bullet and knife wounds. Fax will then be fitted for the vest before it is custom-made to fit his frame. The piece will be made by K9 Storm Incorporated.


K-9 teams respond to armed robberies, burglaries and other calls involving weapons and fleeing suspects. They are 16 times more likely to be involved in a shooting incident, according to a Web site established during Crestwood's fundraiser,

In 2007, Federal Way's K-9 generalist dogs were used 103 times on a typical call, specifically called for 17 times, requested by other agencies 17 times, performed 31 captures and found evidence 22 times, K-9 officer Scott Orta said during an Oct. 2008 Police Academy class.

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