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Daily Pilot

Vests go to the dogs

High school club raises money for protective gear for K9s who serve and protect.

By Jeremiah Dobruck

2:58 PM PST, January 16, 2013

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Corona del Mar High School freshman Jenny Conde is saving for two vests that are stab- and bullet-proof — and fitted for a dog.

Since the beginning of the semester, Jenny, 14, and her classmates have been raising funds as part of her Vest-A-Dog Club.

They need about $2,400 to buy tactical Kevlar gear for the Newport Beach Police Department's K-9 officers Elko and Jardo.

Jenny and her family say they're enamored with all types of dogs, even though their miniature poodle at home is a bit smaller than the Belgian Malinois Newport police use. But, Jenny said, at the beginning of her first semester at CdM in September, she hoped to start a club and turned to her love of animals for an idea.

After finding a national organization, Vest-A-Dog, that raises money to buy protection for K-9 units across the country, Jenny decided to start her own branch.

It's been a challenge, she said. For the first time she's raising money for a cause she created, and she had a hard time convincing classmates to join her. But that's turned around.

"We have about 25 members, and they're all really enthusiastic about it," Jenny said.

Part of what stoked that enthusiasm was meeting Jardo and Elko.

In November, the dogs' handler, Officer Mike Fletcher, brought Jardo to class.

"It was really exciting. It was good to get to know them a little bit because you actually get to know why you're fundraising," Jenny said.

The club also got a chance to see the dogs in action when they visited the Police Department to watch a demonstration where Jardo and Elko sniffed out contraband and demonstrated how they would take down a suspect.

"Officer Fletcher put on a padded suit, and the dog literally bit his arm and wouldn't let go," Jenny said.

Jardo and Elko already have bullet-proof vests funded by the department, but Officer Vlad Anderson said the time is coming to replace them.

"The vests do 'outdate' pretty quickly," Jenny said.

Right now, she has $1,000 in the bank from placing donation bins in businesses around town and getting cash for sweets when they participated in a Halloween candy buyback.

Jenny estimated she's dedicated about 100 hours to the club since it started, but one of her major hurdles was in the beginning when she had to find an advisor to sponsor it.

After a teacher turned her away, Jenny had an epiphany. Anderson, CdM's school resource officer, has been one of the club's biggest fans since she asked him to oversee it.

"She is the greatest kid. I am so impressed by her, and she's very driven, very enthusiastic," Anderson said.

He added that he and other officers often see the dark side of a community, but he's continually impressed by students at CdM, and Jenny lifted his spirits all the more.

"It just gives me hope," he said. "This is an amazing kid."

Jenny is looking for businesses who want to sponsor Vest-A-Dog. More information about the club, sponsorships or donations is available at vestadogoc.wix.com/cdmhs.

The club will also sell plush dog toys to raise money at the grand opening of Top Dog Barkery from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24 at 924 Avocado Ave. in Newport Beach.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck