An animal charity is looking to provide a helping hand to service dogs that are facing serious medical hardships.
The Guardian Angels K9 Fund will be formally launched Friday by the Angels for Animals Foundation. Its goal is to help cover the medical expenses incurred by dogs who served in law enforcement and the military.
Mark Magazu II, founder and chairman of the Woolwich Township-based foundation, says the new fund was started in honor of Judge, a dog who served with the West Deptford police department for seven years and died recently.
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When the 9-year-old German Shepherd was diagnosed with Cushing's disease (hyperactive adrenal glands), his medical bills exceeded $12,000, forcing his handler to ask community members for help in covering those costs.
Judge's handler, Cpl. Michael Franks, said the town only allotted $300 for handlers to spend on medical expenses, leading his colleagues to start an online fundraising effort. The end result was more than $14,000 raised in two days, something Franks said is a direct result of the impact Judge had on people in the community.
"It was very impressive to see the support we were getting from the community and businesses in town," Franks said. "He touched a lot of people either on a personal or professional level."
But Magazu doesn't want handlers to resort to asking the community for help. He says he wants to ensure that service animals receive the life-saving medical care they need, whether the animal is still on active duty or retired.
"Our K9 officers and veterans serve our communities and risk their lives in the same way that our bravest servicemen and women do," Magazu said, noting that police dogs are subjected to gunshot wounds, shrapnel from explosive devices, bone fractures and life threatening internal trauma resulting from physical confrontations with suspects.
The costs for this type of care can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars range, and often the animals' handlers or the departments they serve cannot cover such costs.
Magazu said he hopes that if the program proves successful in New Jersey, it can be taken national.
He said Friday's launch date was chosen because March 13 is the day dog lovers across the nation celebrate "K9 Veterans Day."