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Students bake dog biscuits to boost pooch protection

(ran West, South, Beach, Seminole editions)

Rocky, a Pinellas Park police dog, has a new bulletproof vest, thanks in part to students in Wellington School's junior honor society.

The eighth-graders raised $400, nearly half the cost of the vest, by selling dog biscuits on the school's Seminole and St. Petersburg campuses.

"We wanted to do something that would really help out the community," said Heather Burnette. "I'd be very happy if we got to save Rocky's life."

"Sometimes these dogs get the worst of the worst calls," said Rocky's partner, Officer Cassidy Perry. "They can be the first ones to meet an armed assailant, and they do it without the protection of the handler."

The officer and Rocky thanked the students Thursday morning with a drug-bust demonstration. Perry commanded Rocky to search for drugs, planted and hidden in the school's gym. Rocky pawed and smelled his way to finding the bag, containing a grassy-colored substance.

"I'm pretty sure it was cocaine," 13-year-old Christine Flareau said. "It smelled terrible."

"No, if it's green, I think it's marijuana," said Rebekka Geldbart, another student.

Every time Rocky finds drugs, he gets his chew toy.

"He's like the dog you have at home," said Perry, K-9 trainer and handler for the Police Department. "Except he helps find and get the bad guys."

Honor society members must complete five hours of community service per year. Some students have cleaned beaches and collected shoes for migrant workers. But when Flareau heard about an effort through the police volunteer alumni association to raise money to buy bulletproof vests for dogs, she thought of a project for the entire group.

"We looked up a recipe and thought we could make and sell dog biscuits," Flareau said. "It sounded like fun."

With the consent of principal Karen Mathews, the group took over a classroom where they conduct science experiments. Flour, water and natural peanut butter became the students' materials for baking lab-made dog treats.

For two hours, the students mixed, rolled and cut. Some students found themselves doused in flour courtesy of a food fight. Batter spilled over the lab's table tops, covering the room's tile floors.

The results were a great mess and a learning experience for some members.

"A lot of the boys hadn't ever cooked before," Matthew McGuire said. "We didn't know how to use the measuring cup, and we didn't know if the mix would be thick enough."

Some of the girls picked up new things, too.

"I learned to mop for the first time," Rebekka said.

When all the batter had been mopped, they ended up baking 800 snacks shaped as dog bones. Distributing the snacks for 15 minutes before and after school, the group sold all the treats in a month.

The $400 they raised supplemented the $850 cost for Rocky's vest, according to Leland O'Quinn, the department's volunteer training coordinator. Donations from Sam's Club, local stores and residents led to a successful campaign raising twice as much money as the association's original $5,000 goal.

O'Quinn said the extra money will be used to pay the dogs' medical expenses when they retire.

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