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‘It was meant to be’

Friends of Solo Foundation works with local businesses to provide K-9 officers with body armor

Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Friends of Solo Foundation donates three K-9 bulletproof vests and trauma kits sponsored by George's Garage & Towing on May 4.

Connecting through a call several years ago, George’s Garage & Towing and the Friends of Solo Foundation forged a relationship that has helped provide K-9 body armor vests to local police departments.

Jim Wiater is the president and founder of Friends of Solo Foundation, a New Jersey based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting K-9 officers with body armor, trauma field kits and other safety equipment.

When cold calling places to see if they would be interested in sponsoring bulletproof vests for K-9’s in local police departments, the Alfano’s, who run George’s Garage & Towing in Cranbury Township, picked up and answered Wiater’s call.

Since that call three years ago, Tony Alfano and Nicole Alfano have sponsored to date five K-9 bulletproof vests.

“We love animals and support the police, and this was a good combination,” Tony Alfano said. “It is pretty good to donate in an area that benefits a bunch of stuff especially animals and police.

“This is a good thing for (the K-9 officers) because there is not a lot of funding for animals to get protection. I’m glad we are able to help them be safe, and that this has worked out really well.”

Three vests were presented and donated at George’s Garage on May 4, along with two trauma field kits, sponsored by the local family-owned business.

“We always looked for different ways to make donations and this was something that kind of fell in our laps,” Alfano said. “We crossed paths and it was meant to be. We are going to keep doing it as long as we can.”

Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Tony Alfano (left) of George’s Garage and Jim Wiater (right), president and founder of Friends of Solo Foundation.

One of the three new vests has gone to Bayonne Police Department K-9 officer – Thor, while the two others went to Hudson County Sheriff’s Office K-9 officers – Mia Sofia and Bill.

The two trauma kits sponsored by George’s Garage have gone to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office for K-9 officers – Remi and Maverick.

Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Thor (center), Bayonne Police Department K-9 officer, having his vest put on.

Wiater noted that the trauma kits cost about $400 each and the vests range from $1,400 up to $3,400.

“Having sponsors as George’s Garage & Towing means a lot to us,” he said. “The costs of the vests and kits are not cheap. To have people care about the dogs and the community is very helpful for us.”

The bulletproof K-9 body armor vests are sized to the K-9s measurements such as girth, length and weight.

“When I contact the handlers of the K-9s I tell them what we have and what we have to offer and what brands we have been working with,” Wiater explained.

“Whichever brand the handler chooses, that is the vest we are going to get because we want them to be comfortable with their choice and not saying this is what we are going to give your dog.”

Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Three K-9 officer bulletproof vests.

The Friends of Solo Foundation began 26 years ago when Wiater read a story about the death of K9 Solo from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.

K9 Solo, a German shepherd, died in 1998 after being fatally shot while trying to apprehend a barricaded individual at a home. In the year before he was killed in the line of duty, K9 Solo was credited with 16 apprehensions and locating 19 missing people, according to Officer Down Memorial Page.

Wiater never thought at the time his urge to help would morph into the Friends of Solo Foundation nonprofit today.

“I wished that maybe one day I could buy a vest for a dog,” he recalled. “One turned into two, two turned into four, and a nonprofit foundation was formed from that, and we are just going to keep on going and give it to as many dogs and as many places as we can.”

The foundation as of May 4 has been able to provide 33 K-9 bulletproof vests and between 64 to 68 trauma kits.

“There is a definite need for vests, trauma kits and other safety equipment,” Wiater said.

The trauma kits have gauze bandages, needles, and general first aid items that are geared to aid K-9s.

“Dogs get injured,” Wiater said. “It might just be a training accident. They [police officers] want something to take care of the dog at that moment and while they are out on patrol and working too.”

Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group One of the K-9 trauma field kits.

Police departments and Sheriff’s offices have been reaching out to Wiater, and he has been reaching out to them.

“If I know of a dog in the area or someone tells me about a dog, I’ll call [to] tell them who we are and what we have,” he said. “Today, Thor’s vest came because friends of his were getting vest themselves.”

The New Jersey based nonprofit has not only helped local police departments and sheriff’s offices K-9 officers around the state, but also nationwide. For more information visit https://www.friendsofsolofoundation.org.

Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group

Jim Wiater (right) with K-9 officer Maverick (center) from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.
Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Tony Alfano (left) of George's Garage and Jim Wiater (right), president and founder of Friends of Solo Foundation.
Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Thor (center), Bayonne Police Department K-9 officer, having his vest put on.
Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Three K-9 officer bulletproof vests.
Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group Jim Wiater (right) with K-9 officer Maverick from the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office.
Andrew Harrison/ Newspaper Media Group One of the K-9 trauma field kits.
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