The career of one of Riverhead’s finest came to a tragic end earlier this month when he died the same day a lemon-sized tumor was found in his stomach. He was 10 years old.
Bruno, one of the department’s two police dogs, was euthanized at East End Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Riverhead on Oct. 8 after serving eight years on the force.
Officer Glenn Erick, Bruno’s trainer and master, remembered the German shepherd as a loyal, diligent officer who worked until the day he died.
“He really liked going to work,” he said. “He didn’t sit in the back of the car for a moment’s time.”
Officer Erick recalled one incident several years ago where Bruno closed a case that would have most likely remained unsolved had it not been for the dog’s superior sense of smell. Bruno picked up the scent of a suspect after a theft at a car lot on Route 58 in Riverhead. He led officers to the man and, as soon as he was apprehended, ran after a second thief police did not even know existed.
“He pulled him to the ground,” Officer Erick recalled. “He apprehended two in one clip.”
When the Hungary-born Bruno came to the department in 2002, Officer Erick said he had the perfect build, temperament and demeanor for a police dog. “He was full of himself,” he recalled.
Bruno loved to work and would get excited when he heard his master getting ready for a tour.
But Officer Erick had noticed him slowing down over the last few years. This summer, Bruno started losing weight and was taken for some blood work, though the results were inconclusive. He was scheduled for a second round of blood tests when Officer Erick approached the dog’s pen one morning and found him lying on the ground, writhing in pain. He suspected the dog was suffering from contortion, a serious condition where the dog’s stomach becomes twisted and unable to pass anything in or out.
His suspicion turned out to be accurate.
The dog was taken to the vet and it soon became apparent that without immediate surgery to correct his contorted stomach and remove a tumor, Bruno would die.
The police department decided to put Bruno down rather than subject him to the surgery.
“We felt it was the best choice,” Officer Erick said.
It is uncertain if the department will purchase another dog to replace Bruno. Lieutenant Richard Boden, who oversees the K-9 Unit, said a new dog could cost about $6,500. In addition, it costs the department between $2,000 and $3,000 a year in food and vet costs for the dogs.
“It’s a big commitment on the department’s end,” he said.
The department has one other dog, Vaki, who lives with Officer John Doscinski. Vaki was purchased using money seized during Suffolk County district attorney raids. PBA president Detective Dixon Palmer said he hopes the district attorney’s office could provide money for another dog. That dog would most likely live with Officer Erick, who worked with another dog from 1995 to 2002, Det. Palmer said.
Officer Erick said that although keeping a police dog is rewarding, it’s also a very demanding commitment.
The training process is long, with the initial course taking 16 to 20 weeks, he said, and there are training quotas the dogs must meet every quarter in order to stay on the force. On top of that, Officer Erick said he rarely ever let the dog out of his sight, even to play in the backyard.
Still, he said taking care of Bruno over the years meant more to him than caring for an average household pet.
“It’s a lot more of a bond,” he said. “There’s something different about when you’re working the dog out on the street.”
This post was originally published Oct. 20, 2010