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Missoula K9 officer Zip continues hard work with new protective vest

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Posted at 9:10 AM, Mar 30, 2023

MISSOULA - Zip, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois, isn’t your typical four-legged friend; and that’s because his day job involves patrolling with police in Missoula.

Zip — one of two K9 officers in Missoula County — recently received a bullet and stab-proof vest, which will keep him a bit safer in high-risk situations.

“For him, that’s huge, because as police officers, we wear our protective vests all the time,” said Zip's handler Officer Nathan Champa. “The calls that he might go on, they’re a higher threat level, so it’s just extra protection for him from maybe getting shot or stabbed.”

Champa applied for the vest from Vested Interest in K9s, a non-profit that donates protective vests to police dogs around the country. Since the organization was founded in 2009, it has provided 5,000 K9 officers with vests– a value of $6.9 million.

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Nathan Champa and Zip play like any other pet and owner pair would, but Champa did say since Zip went through bite training, he is very apprehensive of other people.

While Zip is still young — police dogs typically serve eight to 10 years on the force — he’s wasted no time being an effective team member at the Missoula Police Department.

“Zip is a valuable asset to our department,” noted Missoula Police Department Sergeant James Caton.

So far this year, Zip has already helped the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HITDA), by finding 8,900 fentanyl pills and 2.9 kilograms of meth.

“He’s actually been performing at a very high level, and like I said, we haven’t even scratched the surface, so we got more work to come from him,” Sgt. Caton says.

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Vested Interest in K9s decided to embroider "Born to love, trained to serve, loyal always" in Zip's vest. Each vest from the non-profit is tailored and made specifically for each dog.

Champa first met Zip after traveling to Shallow Creek Kennels in Pennsylvania, where Zip had been training for six weeks. Champa spent six more weeks with Zip there to gain his trust.

“That six weeks was more or less me learning how zip worked and bonding with him,” Champa says. “I would just take him on long walks, no obedience or anything like that, just walking with him, talking to him and having him get used to me.”

The work Champa put in to build a bond with Zip paid off, as Caton says the two are best friends.

“They work really well together, I mean when they went down to pair officer Champa with Zip, it was a very compatible match,” he says.