DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Standing inside a Durham police substation, James Hatch was thousands of miles and a world away from his past life. He served more than 25 years in the military, taking part in high-stress and life-or-death situations.
His current focus is now on the type of officer he credits to saving his life in those conditions.
"Right before I got shot in the leg, this dog got shot in the head. That's how we knew there were bad guys waiting on us," said Hatch, about his dog Remco.
It happened in July 2009, when Hatch's unit was searching for Bowe Bergdahl. During testimony in 2017, Hatch said that gunshot wound ended his military career.
Tattooed on his left arm are the names of Spike and Remco, two combat K9s who helped protect him while he served overseas.
"Dogs are kind of the first ones sent into the really tough situations - barricaded shooters, people armed with knives and guns," said Hatch.
As he transitioned to civilian life, Hatch created Spike's K9 Fund, a non-profit organization that outfits police K9s with protective vests.
They've worked with departments in 43 states, including in North Carolina.
Included in the list of North Carolina departments are Knightdale, Wake Forest, Hillsborough, and Morrisville.
On Tuesday, Durham police were the latest to join that list.
"I think of it with regard to the ripple. So we help the dog and some people go well it's just a dog. Well no not really. The dog protects the officer, which is part of his family. And then that officer protects the rest of the officers in the department, and the department protects the community," Hatch said.
Durham K9 Officer Doug Rausch understands the split relationship K9s possess.
He's handled Zeus for the past four years.
"When he retires he stays with me. So it's as if he's both family and very trusted fellow officer," explained Rausch.
Zeus was one of eight K9s to be fitted for protective vests Tuesday afternoon. Rausch noted Durham police have dealt with an attack on their K9s in the past.
"One of our first dogs that we've had was shot, stabbed," Rausch said.
The vests cost about $2,500 each through Spike's K9 fund, which Hatch explained is still a sizable discount compared to the open market, where they can be closer to $3,400.
The funds to pay for the vests are raised through donations, often done online. However, that was not the case Tuesday morning when Hatch sat down at a nearby cafe in Durham prior to meeting with the officers.
"As we sat down and explained who we were and what we were doing, they decided to make a significant $1,000 donation which is pretty amazing," said Hatch, who believed the donor did not want to be identified.
The fittings will now be sent off to a company that creates the vests before they're shipped back to be used by Durham police. Hatch estimated the entire process would take about a month.
If you're interested in donating to Spike's K9 Fund, click here.