K9 Storm makes $5 million a year selling custom armor for dogs in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Special Forces. Next up, the 12-employee firm is offering a new way to communicate with canines.
In 2010 it launches the K9 Storm Intruder, a bulletproof dog vest with a wireless camera, speakers and a microphone built in. The handler can see what the dog sees and issue commands through the audio system.
"This will change the way dogs are managed in emergencies," says Glori Slater, co-founder of K9 Storm. "It will extend the range of the handler to 300 yards."
Slater's husband, Jim, is a former dog handler for the Winnipeg police department. For two terrifying days in 1996, he and his German shepherd Olaf helped subdue a prison riot in which the inmates were armed with makeshift weapons. Slater worried more for Olaf than for himself.
"He was out working ahead of our lines," he says. "I realized it would be a bad way for him to go down, stabbed with a screwdriver."
After the riot, Slater retrofitted a human flak jacket for his canine partner. That prompted orders from fellow canine officers, and soon K9 Storm was in business. The Slaters spent 11 years perfecting the vest.
It's not cheap. The Intruder system starts at $20,000. But the Slaters say they have dozens of preorders. Military working dogs are major investments, costing up to $50,000 each to purchase and train. There also are plenty of donors stepping up to help cash-strapped municipalities buy the vests. Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, gave $250,000 to the Pittsburgh police and fire departments for canine armor. -Jonathan Blum
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