CLINTON — Investing in the safety of Laika the Clinton police dog sounded very rewarding to Sadie Deeters Brommer.

Brommer spent more than $700 buying the canine’s made-to-measure bulletproof and stabproof vest, which a small police department such as Clinton would otherwise struggle to provide. But Brommer says it’s well worth it to protect the 2-year-old Belgian Malinois dog, and the gift is helping to give its donor a new leash on life, too.

Brommer suffers from severe tinnitus, a maddening cacophony of sounds in her ears that range from ringing and roaring to what she describes as “an old-time radio announcer, but I can never understand the words.”

It came on about two years ago, out of the blue, and reached such a terrible level of constant noise that Brommer feared for her sanity. It is estimated some 10 million to 12 million people are tormented by the condition, and the sufferers include such famous names as Capt. James T. Kirk himself, actor William Shatner. He once told his doctor he didn’t know if he could go on living with tinnitus, and Brommer knew how he felt.

“My husband Darrell and I were very social, we liked to go out,” said Brommer, 66, who lives in Bloomington. “But this tinnitus just shut me down. My life was over. One of the side effects of severe tinnitus is suicides and broken marriages because you just can’t function. It drives you crazy.”

While medical science struggles to find out what causes tinnitus and how to turn it off, Brommer drifted in search of her own cures. Better medications are helping her, but one thing that does seem to work is finding a distraction, something consuming to devote yourself to and something else to concentrate on besides that sound machine playing inside your skull.

When Brommer, an animal-lover who owns racehorses, discovered a year ago that lots of police dogs lacked any kind of protection, she suddenly knew she had found her cause celebre.

So far, she’s invested in vests for city police dogs in Pontiac, Pekin and Clinton, and sheriff’s department dogs in McLean and DeWitt counties. Brommer discovered the need after reading about and contacting Susie Jean, a Georgia activist who herself was shocked into action after once seeing TV news footage of a police dog being shot to death by a fleeing criminal. Last year alone, Jean invested more than 200 dogs with vests.

“I asked her if there were any dogs in Central Illinois that needed help, and she e-mailed me back and told me,” Brommer said. “She keeps a list of dogs all over the country who need vests.”

For the officers who see their dogs as protectors, partners and friends, having a stranger walk up and offer something to help safeguard them is the stuff dreams are made of. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Clinton Police Department’s canine handler, James McClure, who partners with Laika.

“It’s just an amazing amount of generosity this woman has for these dogs. She feels that what we do is dangerous enough, and if the dogs are willing to put their lives on the line for us, then they should be given every opportunity to be safe.”

Deputy Rob Spickard, the canine officer for the DeWitt County Sheriff’s Office who partners with 8-year-old Bozworth, another Belgian Malinois with a Brommer-supplied vest, is equally impressed with the donor. “It shows she’s got a huge heart, a huge heart for these animals,” he said.

“The primary reason for the dog is to protect the officer in dangerous situations, and that vest could come in handy, most definitely.”

Officers send Brommer framed pictures of their dogs, along with messages of thanks, which she displays in her living room like family photos. She’s also gotten to know some officers and their families well, too, such as Pontiac canine handler Casey Kohlmeier and his dog, Draco. When Draco used his radar nose recently to find a 3-year-old girl lost and wandering in a vast cornfield, Brommer was so delighted she named one of her racehorse colts Officer Draco in his honor.

“The purpose of buying the vests is to help these dogs but, in the process of doing it, look how it’s helped me,” she says. “I’ve made all these new friends; I feel good enough to go out and see people again, and I even went to Draco’s house for Christmas … he’s a powerful dog, but he gives me big, slobbery kisses. Getting involved in all this has helped bring me out of my tinnitus nightmare. It’s brought me back to life.”

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