By Jeff Smith

BATH - Steuben County Sheriff Department K9 Corporal “Twiggy” is getting protection.

The 2-year-old Belgian malinois shepherd recently began wearing a bullet-and-stab-protective vest when he patrols with his handler, Sheriff's Deputy Officer Tom Nybeck.

Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard said the department recently received a bullet and stab protective vest thanks to a charitable donation from nonprofit organization Vested Interest in K9s Inc.

“The vest is highly important,” Nebeck said. “I am so grateful the department received it because whenever we are going to a scene that I know is not going to be safe, I’ll take a few extra seconds to pull over and put the vest on him.”

Nybeck called Twiggy and other Steuben County Sheriff Department K9’s a “huge asset to the Sheriff’s Department.”

“We are currently big on trying to fight the drug war and the K9’s certainly aid in that,” Nebeck said. “Twiggy really helps in assisting me. Being a patrolman, I work the nightshift, and having (Twiggy) helps protect me and whatever is on scene. K9’s nose is a tool that nothing can compare to.”

The vest was embroidered with the sentiment “in memory of Deputy Pete Knapp End Of Watch 2/24/06.”

Twiggy’s vest equipment arrived about two weeks ago through Vested Interest in K9, Inc., a charity located in East Taunton Mass. The mission of the company is to provide bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States.

The non-profit was established in 2009 to assist law enforcement agencies with this potentially lifesaving body armor for their four-legged K9 officers, Allard said. Since its inception, Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. provided over 3,800 US made, custom fitted, certified protective vests in 50 states, through private and corporate donations, at a value of $6.9 million dollars.

The program is open to dogs actively employed in the US with law enforcement or related agencies who are certified with at least 20 months of age, officials said. New K9 graduates, as well as K9s with expired vests, are eligible to participate.

The donation to provide one protective vest for a law enforcement K9 is $950, officials said. Each vests has a value between $1,744 to $2,283, and a five-year warranty and an average weight of 4-5 pounds. There are an estimated 30,000 law enforcement K9s throughout the U.S.