NORTH CENTER — Members of the Chicago Police Department are expected to buy their own protective vests — and that goes for the four-legged ones, too.
Not surprisingly, a vest's $850 price tag is a bit steep for the hounds — because they're dogs — so their human counterparts in Chicago Police Canine Unit 341 are stepping up with a fundraiser from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Found Chicago animal shelter, 4108 N. Rockwell St.
"We send our dogs with the officers into some pretty high-risk situations," said Lt. Victor Guerrieri, commanding officer of the unit.
The vests used now are more than 7 years old, and are not only showing their age but are past warranty, Guerrieri said.
Safety is a primary concern for the unit's 18 German shepherds and three Labradors as they conduct building searches for suspected criminals, locate missing people and detect explosives or narcotics. The Labs exclusively work the illicit drug beat.
"They can find people much quicker than humans," said Guerrieri. "Within seconds they can find the scent."
The dogs' sense of smell is so finely honed, they can take a single whiff of currency and tell whether the money so much as brushed up against a shipment of drugs, he said.
Dogs are typically 12-14 months old when they join the Canine Unit and receive 16 weeks of training, with monthly refresher sessions conducted whenever possible. Each is paired with a human officer.
"The dogs go home with their handler. It's a 24-hour-a-day job," Guerrieri said. "The handlers are with their dogs more than their families."
This isn't the first time the unit has appealed to the public on behalf of its canines. Former Supt. Phil Cline made a similar plea in 2005.
"People came through like they always do," Guerrieri said.
Saturday's event will feature a raffle, food vendors and demonstrations from the Canine Unit. Cost is $5 for adults; children 12 and under are admitted free.