NASCAR Champ Pitches In To Help E-mail
The path that led Tony Stewart, a two-time NASCAR champion, to outfit the entire Indiana State Patrol K9s with custom-made bullet and knife resistant vests started with a tragedy. Gary Dudley, an Indiana State Patrol (ISP) lieutenant, died in an accident while on a Concerns of Police Survivors fund-raising bike ride.

An ISP K9 officer asked the lieutenant's widow, Carolyn, for permission to name his new canine partner "Dudley" in memory of her husband.

Carolyn gave her blessing and decided her husband's namesake needed to be kept safe on duty. Carolyn contacted Susie Jean, a woman with a passion for providing vests for K9s around the country, for help.

Susie put the ISP on her waiting list and applied to the Indianapolis-based Tony Stewart Foundation for a grant to purchase ten vests. When Tony and his Foundation's board of directors reviewed the grant request, he had one question. Was 10 vests enough?

The Foundation learned that the ISP had recently expanded to a 30-dog unit. Tony decided to outfit the entire ISP K9 unit and to provide ten more vests to agencies in Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Minnesota that were on Susie Jean's waiting list. The Tony Stewart Foundation donated $35,000 to Susie Jean's effort.

"We're not used to people being nice to us," said ISP First Sergeant David Bursten. He noted that the state patrol employs the K9s for tracking and narcotics duties. "I was amazed at the unbelievable generosity of the Tony Stewart Foundation," he said.

So was Susie Jean. "My husband is a NASCAR fan," she said. Susie explained how she discovered that many of the drivers supported animal-related causes. That research led her to the Tony Stewart Foundation.

"It was a perfect fit," she added. "A home state grant for a state agency."

In 2002, while watching an episode of "America's Most Wanted," Susie Jean was horrified by what she saw from an in-car video. A canine, pursing a suspect, was shot and fell to the ground.

The dog heroically struggled to get up and caught the suspect before succumbing to his injury.

Susie had recently lost two beloved German Shepherds to cancer. Susie vowed, right then and there, to do something to keep police K9s safe.

Her organization, Vest ‘N PDP (Police Dog Protection), has provided ballistic vests for 436 dogs in 40 states. In 2009 alone, she outfitted 176 dogs.

Susie relies solely on individual donations and grants with ninety-nine percent of all proceeds going towards the purchase of vests.

Susie provides the administrative support required to run the organization and makes certain every donor receives a personal thank you card. She includes a photo of the K9 receiving the vest when she can.

She also tries to target donations to agencies in their home states. Susie purchases the vests from Uniform Sales of America, located in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.

In the eight years that Susie has been "vesting" K9s, the owners, Robert and Pat Yurman, have supplied vests at cost and the price has remained constant throughout the years in spite of the economic downturn. "The Yurmans have been my right arm," Susie says.

Donations to both organizations are welcome. Contact Susie Jean at For more information on the Tony Stewart Foundation, go to

Barbara A. Schwartz writes exclusively about the brave officers of law enforcement from her home in Houston, Texas. She is proud of her Indiana ties. She received her engineering degree from Purdue University.

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