2017-11-16 / News

New canine among ranks in OOB

While officer mourns loss of longtime police dog and friend, he trains dog’s replacement
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


Bruno is the newest addition to the Old Orchard Beach Police Department. He will live and work alongside Officer Christopher St. Pierre. Bruno follows in the paw-steps of Gunther, whom Officer St. Pierre had been with for almost 10 years. Gunther died unexpectedly Monday, Oct. 16. Officer St. Pierre hopes to have Bruno fully trained within the next five months. (Grant McPherson photo) Bruno is the newest addition to the Old Orchard Beach Police Department. He will live and work alongside Officer Christopher St. Pierre. Bruno follows in the paw-steps of Gunther, whom Officer St. Pierre had been with for almost 10 years. Gunther died unexpectedly Monday, Oct. 16. Officer St. Pierre hopes to have Bruno fully trained within the next five months. (Grant McPherson photo) OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Training has begun for the Old Orchard Beach Police Department’s newest four-legged member, but the memory of his predecessor is still fresh.

Officer Christopher St. Pierre picked up 1-year-old German shepherd Bruno from the Portland Jetport Monday, Oct. 9. However, the excitement of Bruno’s arrival was cut short. Gunther, St. Pierre’s canine partner of 10 years, died unexpectedly Monday, Oct. 16. Gunther was due to retire but St. Pierre had hoped the two dogs would be able to spend more time together.

“The timing was awful for me,” St. Pierre said. “I only got to have the two dogs together for a week, which I guess was enough time for Gunther to judge (Bruno). They didn’t get a chance to be friends.”

Bruno and Gunther both came from the Czech Republic. Bruno went to training facilities in Belgium and Florida, just as Gunther had, before he arrived in Maine. St. Pierre plans to train Bruno in the same capacity that Gunther filled as a dual purpose patrol dog. Gunther served on narcotics patrol as well as tracking apprehension, evidence recovery and building searches.

“Gunther played a huge role, both as our go-to dog on big calls and as our friend,” St. Pierre said. “He was everyone’s dog here. Everybody loved him, even the bad guys for the most part.”

Outside of Old Orchard Beach, St. Pierre and Gunther served in Saco, Biddeford, Scarborough and throughout York County. The pair also occasionally assisted the Maine State Police, Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They’ve even received awards for their work tracking suspects. But the recognition is far from the most important aspect for St. Pierre.

“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than running behind my dog looking for someone,” St. Pierre said. “It’s an indescribable feeling, especially when you have success.”

St. Pierre still remembers his first track with Gunther. After a car crash in Saco, the two followed the scent for several miles until they reached the home of the vehicle owner.

“It’s like watching a kid hit a home run,” St. Pierre said. “A lot of times it wouldn’t have happened without a dog.”

The bond between handler and dog is paramount to a successful track, according to St. Pierre. He said Gunther could follow the odor of a specific human from a hat or shirt, in a technique known as scent discrimination. However, just as often a dog can smell the vegetation decay along the path an individual creates.

“Once I noticed that he has the scent, I encourage him to stick with that scent until we find the person,” St. Pierre said.

A few years ago, St. Pierre and Gunther were called to an area to help search for a girl that was possibly suicidal and had gone missing. St. Pierre said Gunther had little information to work with and hoped he would be able to pick up the right odor. Gunther eventually did, and found the girl hiding under a pile of brush in the middle of the woods.

“That person would not have been alive without Gunther,” St. Pierre said.

He hopes Bruno will be certified and ready for the field within four to five months. Bruno has already received preliminary aggression training and understands the command to attack. The challenge for St. Pierre now is to teach Bruno obedience. However, after 10 years with Gunther, St. Pierre said he feels more confident than when he first started.

“It’s a lot of repetition, getting him used to the commands,” St. Pierre said. “Not allowing him to get away with any bad behavior. I know what to look at this time, it should go much easier. If I could stop his pacing that would be wonderful. It’s tough, I’m used to working with a very low-key dog. (Bruno) is a ball of energy, he’s such a puppy. He’s a scatterbrain right now.”

Bruno will be one of about five police dogs in York County, once he is fully trained. St. Pierre said an average week can consist of four to six calls, but summers tend to be busier overall, especially in Old Orchard Beach. St. Pierre and Gunther once had three tracks in a single night.

“I think they’re a huge asset,” St. Pierre said. “They can be a force multiplier too. People take notice of a big dog barking in the back of a car. Not too many people want to meet one in that aspect. I’m very biased but I think every department should have dogs.”

For St. Pierre, there will be no replacing his partner of the last decade.

“I trusted Gunther more than anybody else in the world,” St. Pierre said. “I trusted him with my life essentially. Gunther was at my wedding. He came with me on my honeymoon. He was there when I brought my son and daughter home. It’s impossible to explain when you know somebody that well, it’s like a part of myself is now gone. I lost my best friend.”

Contact staff writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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