Waldo County K-9 officer Frankie is getting a custom-made ballistics vest, thanks to a fundraising effort by Paws & Claws pet groomers.

Owner Kamrie Hodgeman and husband Greg had been brainstorming ideas for doing something for the community that has supported her business over the last dozen years. They're planning to open a second grooming location in East Belfast in the fall, and the timing seemed appropriate.

"We've been so blessed to be here and for so long — and successful — we just want to give something back," Kamrie said.

Greg saw news of a ballistics vest donated to Detective David Cole's K-9 Kojo after Cole's father, Cpl. Eugene Cole of Norridgewock, was shot and killed in April. That gave them the idea to support the local K-9's.

The vests are supplied by Maine K-9 Vests, a nonprofit that raises the $900 to $1,000, on average, needed for a ballistics vest and donates the vests to a waiting list of K-9 officers throughout the state.

Kamrie called the Waldo County Sheriff's Office and broached the proposal to Detective Sgt. Merl Reed, K-9 Frankie’s handler. She said Reed thought it was a great idea.

"We contacted Maine K9 Vests, and they said they'd be interested in doing this," she said. "They were very helpful."

The Hodgemans set up a GoFundMe page because Paws & Claws “wanted to do a fundraiser with the community,” Kamrie said, “and we agreed to match $500.” They initially planned that anything above the $1,000 would go toward another vest.

The purchase price includes having the department and dog’s names embroidered on the vest with removable Velcro for undercover work where they prefer to not show the K9’s name, as well as a collar and first aid kit for the dog. Maine K9 purchases the ballistics vests through elitek9.com.

“We expected it would take at least two months to raise the funds,” Kamrie said, and they figured that would work well with plans to present the vest at their new location’s grand opening, tentatively planned for September.

But donations reached $500 in the first week and $765 eight days in – in addition to the Hodgemans’ $500. So they decided to go for a second vest, this one for Belfast K-9 Officer Dex, handled by Patrolman Travis Spencer. However, Belfast Police Chief Michael McFadden said July 3 that Dex already has a vest, thanks to donations from three citizens.

As of June 26, the Hodgemans had raised $1,595 of their $2,200 goal. "With our $500, we have enough for both vests," Kamrie said. "We're super excited — we get to vest two dogs! And anything left over will go toward another ballistics vest for a dog in Maine.”

Meanwhile, the Hodgemans have acquired permits and closed on their purchase of 8 Stephenson Lane in East Belfast, and the next step is renovations to turn the building into an upscale pet grooming and doggie daycare facility, complete with a waiting room and coffee bar for pet owners. “We have a lot of renovations to do, including fencing and paving,” Kamrie said.

“I’m excited because we’ve outgrown our facility on Northport Avenue,” she said. “We’ll run both — one with a single groomer (at their current location), the other with four groomers and an elite doggie daycare. …We’re creating a doggie living room where dogs can lie on a sofa, play with toys and watch us groom, and a play yard.”

Kamrie will head the staff at the new facility, while a Paws & Claws groomer will manage the current location. After 12 years in Aubuchon’s, where Greg is manager, she said, “I’ll missing seeing my husband walking by every day.” But both are looking forward to the new venture.

The Hodgemans are hoping for a grand opening in the fall, at which time they will present the ballistics vest to Frankie. And Maine K9 Vests plans to attend, Kamrie said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Belfast K-9 officer Dex already has been outfitted with a ballistics vest.