Dog named Sheriff Bruno comforts families of fallen officers
By BECKY JACOBS, Post-Tribune
CROWN POINT, Ind. (AP) — Sheriff Bruno sat and stared out the blinds as his handler, Joe Hamer, walked back to his office Monday at the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.
“He is a one-in-a-million dog,” Hamer said.
Hamer, an internal affairs investigator, and Bruno, a four-year-old American Bulldog, are leaving the sheriff’s department Friday to begin new jobs next month with the National Concerns of Police Survivors Office in Camdenton, Missouri, working to comfort and support families of officers killed in the line of duty.
“It kind of sealed the deal that they wanted Bruno, too,” Hamer said. “He’s going to be able to do more than we ever expected him to do.”
Bruno joined the department after then-Sheriff John Buncich adopted him in 2015 from the county’s animal shelter to be a “working dog,” Hamer said.
“He just started following me everywhere I went,” Hamer said. “If I got up, he followed me. If I went to the bathroom, he was following me.”
Hamer became Bruno’s handler, and the two live and work together.
“He’s definitely a part of the family,” he said.
Hamer, who is also a chairman with the state Fraternal Order of Police, pitched the idea to Buncich to make Bruno a law enforcement comfort dog.
“He said, ‘Make it happen,'” Hamer said.
Hamer started socializing Bruno, and he even created a Facebook page written from Bruno’s point of view that currently has more than 2,000 friends. Some of the posts show Bruno at different events, such as the Lake County Fair this past summer or the groomers.
“They put me to work. Good thing I know how to type, but nobody could understand me,” states a May post with a picture of Bruno at a Lake County 911 dispatcher’s desk.
There are dog toys around the sheriff’s department. Hammer has a jar of dog treats on his desk. A sign on the main office door reads, “A spoiled rotten American bulldog lives here.” And a burgundy couch near the main entrance is covered in white hair, Hamer said.
“They’ll probably have to throw it out after we leave because they’ll never get all of Bruno off it,” Hamer said.
Bruno’s first line of duty death was when Howard County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Carl Koontz died in March last year, Hamer said.
“(Bruno) was going to people when they were crying. When they were emotional, he was pulling to go towards them,” Hamer said.
In July 2016, Hamer and Bruno went to Texas after five officers were killed in Dallas, he said.
This year, they attended services for Allen County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Joseph Cox in February and for Southport Police Department Lt. Aaron Allan in July.
“When it happens, it’s like the whole world comes in on top of you,” said Southport Police Chief Thomas Vaughn. “You’re trying to figure out what you do next. They were a godsend.”
At Cox’s funeral, Bruno wove his way through the crowd and put his head in the lap of a grieving family member who became emotional, Hamer said.
“The concept was just to take him because he’s just so mild-mannered. Him going to people when they’re emotional, that’s all him. We did not teach him how to do that,” Hamer said.
With their new jobs in Missouri, Hamer and Bruno will be able to focus on this type of work, he said.
“He’ll be able to affect lives of survivors from across the country a lot more,” Hamer said.
Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. said in a statement Friday he was grateful for “the many residents in distress who Joe Hamer and Bruno comforted in their time of need.”
“It is a special gift to have the compassion, and desire to serve your community through the comfort program,” Martinez said.
Hamer thanks the people from Lake County who have supported the two in their work and community outreach. Hamer said he’s proud of the “bridges between law enforcement and the community” Bruno has built.
“I’d be lost without him,” he said.