Twelve-year-old Emma Stanford is sure about two things: K9s deserve the best of everything, and she wants to be the first female K9 officer in Flagler County when she grows up.
Emma has started a nonprofit organization called Emma Loves K9s, which sells plushies that look like actual dogs serving as K9s. All of the proceeds go to the care of both active and retired K9s.
It all started for Emma when she was able to meet one of the K9 officers in Flagler County, near her home in Palm Coast, Florida. She says she became close to the dog and his handler, and wanted to do something to help them and other K9s. She saw the plushies online, and knew she could raise funds by selling them. That was about a year and a half ago.
Now, Emma Loves K9s covers the cost of the food for the retired dogs in Flagler County, and funds have gone to help dogs in Georgia, Texas, New Jersey, Canada, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Emma became connected in Georgia when a friend told the handler of K9 Mattis, a German shepherd from Alpharetta, Georgia, about her.
“K9 Mattis gave me a shout-out,” Emma said, “and I really liked Mattis and his handler, so I decided I wanted to make a K9 Mattis plushie.”
From there, Emma reached out to more of the K9s from the Georgia Police K9 Foundation, including the organization’s founder, Statesboro Police Department Corporal Kyle Briley. Emma reached out to him on Instagram, and asked if she could help the organization. This led to the creation of plushies in the likeness of local K9s Rio and Smokey.
The process of getting the plushie made is simple, Emma says. She picks the dog or breed that looks the most like the specific K9, and asks the handler what color vest and collar is needed, and she is sure to include the logo of that sheriff’s office or police department. They’re ordered from a company in California, and it takes about two weeks to get them after an order is placed. The plushies sell for $20 each.
So far, Emma Loves K9s has sold more than 40 Rio plushies, something that surprised Briley and Emma’s mom, Carmen. They were told to order conservatively for the Rio plushies, as Rio is a bit shy. But buyers have been snapping them up.
“It turns out he’s very much loved by the public,” Carmen said, laughing.
Emma is hopeful she can continue to raise funds for the K9s. It’s important to her.
“I love them so much, and I want them to be able to have everything they need,” she said.
Briley said the partnership has been great. So far, Emma Loves K9s has provided more than $1,000 for the Georgia Police K9 Foundation, and another check is expected in June. The organization has also provided thousands for other organizations as well.
The Georgia Police K9 Foundation was started by Briley in 2016 to assist retired K9s, and it has expanded to help active K9s as well. It was important to him because of one of Statesboro’s own.
“One of our retired K9s from the Statesboro Police Department, Bruno, who recently passed, actually, retired due to medical reasons. Essentially the handler was given the burden to take on those financial responsibilities,” he said.
Briley contacted several agencies throughout the state, and found that this was fairly common, and that more often than not, there was no provision made for K9s, once retired.
“I felt like there needed to be some assistance out there and a little bit of change,” he said.
In addition to raising awareness, the organization provides assistance with medical needs when a dog retires. For active dogs, assistance is given for training and equipment. The organization is volunteer based and is a nonprofit.
Briley has been able to help other similar organizations get their start, and he says there are a few other states which have programs like the foundation, but Georgia’s is the first statewide recognized organization of its kind.
The partnership between Emma Loves K9s and the Georgia Police K9 Foundation is an important one, Briley says.
“Emma’s trying to make a difference, just like us, so it’s good to find an organization that has the same values, and mission concepts as us. It’s incredible that she’s 12 years old and doing these things for K9s all throughout the nation,” he said.
For more information about Emma Loves K9s or to purchase a plushie, go online at www.emmalovesK9s.com. For more information on the Georgia Police K9 Foundation, go online at www.gapolicek9foundation.org. You can find both nonprofits on Facebook and Instagram.