Th 207746


April 1, 2006
What do police dogs have to do with dentistry? Dr. Julia Weertman links K-9s to canines.

What do police dogs have to do with dentistry? Dr. Julia Weertman links K-9s to canines.

by Kristen Wright, Associate Editor

If the K-9s working for the Chicago Police Department could describe their line of work in one word, “Ruff!” would be an understatement. But their beats aren’t nearly as dangerous as they were just a year ago.

Lakos, a male Belgian malinois-shepherd mix working narcotics, would probably tell you how things used to be if he could. It might go something like this:

“My handler, Officer Sandra LaPorta, and I work in the organized crime unit. I’m a drug-sniffing K-9. We help execute search warrants. I frequently find narcotics and drug-tainted money. Once, Officer LaPorta and I were serving papers when pit bulls began attacking her. I rushed to defend her and almost died as a consequence of my bite wounds.”

A general dentist who focuses on cosmetics in Evanston, Ill., wants to prevent similar situations from happening to Lakos and his K-9 co-workers. Dr. Julia Ann Weertman privately raised the money to purchase Lakos his vest, made by International ­Armor, the original designer of the K-9 Vest. Lakos was the first Chicago Police Department K-9 to ­receive a vest from Illinois Vest-a-Dog on June 1, 2005. All major Chicago TV stations and newspapers covered the event.

“Since that day, it’s been fantastic how many dogs have been vested,” Dr. Weertman said. “IVAD has vested all 60 CPD K-9s and 82 additional K-9s in Illinois. The vests are $825, weigh 3 and a half pounds, and are bullet- and stab-resistant. The dogs are comfortable wearing them. This is a great project for a dentist. IVAD is not-for-profit, and all donations are tax-deductable.

“When I’m not at work, I do dog stuff. I have two therapy dogs, and we belong to Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy. My border collies, Kate and Nellie, volunteer in three programs. We help local special education students twice a month. In addition, we volunteer in the rehab department of Evanston Hospital and we visit patients in their rooms at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.”

Dr. Weertman has been involved with Rainbow for some six years. That’s how she learned about the special needs of police K-9s.

“After 9/11, a lot of people showed up at Ground Zero with their therapy dogs. Handlers were getting wiped out. Dogs were getting wiped out,” she said. “Rainbow started a Crisis Response Team, and we trained dog-handler teams in case something like that ever happened in Chicago. Our trainer was Mary Ramsden, an Illinois State Police chaplain. She had worked at Ground Zero and witnessed the therapy dogs in action. She wrote a book called ‘God’s Listening … Prayers for Dog Owners.’”

Included in the book are photos of Rainbow’s Crisis Response Team dogs and their handlers taken by Lee Harrison, director of ­Illinois Vest-a-Dog.

“If it weren’t for Lee, none of this would be happening,” Dr. Weertman said.

Prayers and color photos depict each stage of a dog’s life: puppy through adolescence, training, and old age. Illinois Vest-a-Dog released the book in February 2005 at the International Kennel Club show in Chicago, which coincided with the Chicago Dental Society’s Midwinter ­Meeting. Proceeds from book sales are used to purchase vests for ­Illinois police dogs. The $10 book is available through

Eight states have Vest-a-Dog programs - Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. To learn how to start a Vest-a-Dog program in your state, visit

Click here to enlarge image

DR. JULIA ANN WEERTMAN, a general dentist in Evanston, Ill., helps keep Chicago safe by raising money for bullet- and stab-resistant vests for Illinois police dogs such as her buddy, Lakos. The Belgian malinois-shepherd mix was the first of five K-9s Dr. Weertman helped vest. He received his June 1, 2005. In less than a year, all 60 Chicago K-9s have received vests from Illinois Vest-a-Dog.


Each dog vest is:
3.5 pounds
Please visit