Feature Story: Barbara Bridges: A Champion for Dogs and Founder of K9 Heroes

Barbara Bridges: A Champion for Dogs and Founder of K9 Heroes

By Claire Sheridan | Photo Courtesy of K9 Heroes

Starting a nonprofit agency is not for the faint of heart. At 80 years old, Barbara Bridges is a lady never lacking drive, motivation or heart. A widow of 8 years, Bridges describes herself as “not one to sit around.” K9 Heroes was born from her compassion for animals, and understanding the need to fill gaps locally. Upon learning of the limited funds that many Arizona law enforcement agencies have to provide for police dogs, Bridges felt compelled to find ways to help.

As the grandmother of a military dog handler, Bridges had some personal experience with working dogs. One night she watched the television news and heard about police dogs injured in the line of duty, and began to pray for them. As Bridges learned more about the budgetary challenges facing local law enforcement, she knew she could help. With her professional background in sales (she was a realtor until 2005, and still maintains her license), her experience fundraising for other organizations, and a love of dogs and meeting new people, Bridges had all the elements necessary for success.

Even with those elements in place, Bridges was surprised that her 501(c)(3) paperwork was processed so quickly. When she filed in 2016, she was warned that the review process could take six months. She received her approval in less than two weeks. When she asked why, she was told that her agency’s mission had motivated a quick turnaround of the paperwork.

Bridges has worked tirelessly since, often in the heat, usually solo. With a small crew of volunteers, she has personally set up and staffed tables at events and businesses all over Southern Arizona. Her mission is to educate folks about police dogs’ needs and bring in donations.

One of K9 Heroes’ unique commitments is that the money raised in any community will stay in that specific community. Although this makes accounting practices more complex, this tenet is important to Bridges because she believes that the work isn’t just about the individual dog— it is a service to the community. “These dogs work to keep us safe; the least we can do is provide for their health in retirement by paying their pet insurance premiums.”

K9 Heroes provides a policy through USAA called Embrace, which helps cover veterinary costs for the dogs. At about $1,200 per year per dog, there is much fundraising to be done to cover the many retired and actively working canines.

Some of the specific items that K9 Heroes helps to obtain for law enforcement agencies include: Recon Scout Throwbots, tugs, balls, toys, rewards, e-collars, regular collars, leashes, grooming supplies, nutritional supplements, harnesses, muzzles, camera mount systems that attach to canine harnesses, other tactical gear, bite suits and sleeves, cooling armor vests, first aid kits, canine oxygen masks, and K9 Heat Alert & Deployment systems.

The Throwbot is a tactical tool that is designed to enhance personnel safety by providing information about an environment before sending in humans or canines. According to ReconRobotics, the company that manufactures the Throwbot, the device “can be utilized to locate armed subjects, confirm the presence of hostages or innocent civilians, listen in on conversations, and reveal the layout of rooms – information that can save lives and increase the success of high-risk operations.” The cost of each device is between $7,500 and $13,000.

Ray Allen Manufacturing manufactures K9 Heat Alert & Deployment Systems. The company has been in business since 1949, and they call themselves “the world leader in professional K9 equipment.” The K9 Heat Alert systems consist of heat sensors placed in the K9 unit vehicle, which alert the officer-handler, via a pager carried on the officer’s person, in the event that the vehicle reaches an unsafe temperature for the canine. There is also an option for a “deployment” feature, which enables the officer to remotely open the vehicle door to release the canine if it is deemed necessary. The cost of these systems starts at $1200, and each system can be customized with additional accessories depending on the needs of the law enforcement agency.

Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero’s Journey, said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” K9 Heroes is a group of heroes serving other heroes.

For more information on volunteering, or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit: www.AZK9Heroes.org, email: Barbara.k9heroes@yahoo.com, or call: 520-840-2127

You may also contribute by buying groceries at Fry’s stores; a percentage of your purchase will be donated to K9 Heroes through the Community Rewards Partner Program. Register your Fry’s discount account online and select K9 Heroes as your preferred Community Rewards Partner. Their NPO number is: 81462.

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