TRENTON — If you've seen a "got K9?" sticker on a car around New Jersey, chances are it came from a nonprofit based in our capital city that has developed a national reach in a relatively short time.

Capital K9 Association began in 2011 thanks to the efforts of Trenton Police Officer Michael Lucchesi, and others, who identified a need for K9s across Mercer County to be outfitted with ballistic body armor. The organization's initial fundraising efforts provided these vests to four out of Trenton PD's eight K9s at the time.

After that, Lucchesi said, the group became widely known very quickly.

"The word got out and we started receiving vest applications from all over the state of New Jersey, and it just gradually spread from there," he said. "We've been very fortunate, very lucky, and we've been able to vest K9s as far as Washington state."

Part of the push for the distribution of these vests, according to Lucchesi, is that police departments nationwide have been struggling financially for years. As K9s are already considered equipment, or locating tools, in many of these departments, expensive bulletproof vests are not in a lot of budgets. But Lucchesi said it is important for every police dog to have the same protection its officer is wearing, and to attempt to treat the dog more humanely.

Also, he said, no one knows the bond a K9 forms like its handler. When the dog's collar comes off at the end of the work day, it is simply a member of the cop's family, beloved by parents and children alike.

"They are an integral part of the community, an integral part of their respective police departments, and they're extremely important to the handler and their families," Lucchesi said.

Another feature that Capital K9 supplies is called the Ace K9 Hot-n-Pop, a mechanism that monitors the interior temperature of a police car. If the car gets too hot with a K9 inside, the officer will be paged, the vehicle's windows will be rolled down, and the fans will turned on for circulation. The officer will also receive notification if the interior gets too cold.

Additionally, if an officer is engaging a combative suspect, they can press a button on the same pager to open the vehicle's back door or window and deploy the K9 without the officer having to physically return to the car.

When Capital K9 first started, Lucchesi said the group had to get creative with its marketing in order to increase its reach. Now, although they maintain a robust social media presence, they don't have to push so hard; other police departments know about them, and seek them out.

Capital K9 also continues to pursue fundraising opportunities far and wide, but Lucchesi made sure to emphasize the organization's footprint is still solidly right here in the Garden State.

Find out more at capitalk9association.org.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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