Officer Truman is on patrol
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- Officer Chris Brayer rewards Truman's hard work with a hug after the partners have searched Memorial Stadium’s box suites for explosives. The German shepherd, mid-Missouri’s only explosives canine, was recruited for the MU Police Department from the Central Missouri Humane Society.
- Truman overlooks his next assignment, Faurot Field, before the 2010 Homecoming game. Truman became a member of the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad after four months of training. He’s the third canine member of the team.
- Sniffing high and low, Truman's nose makes the rounds on Farout Field.
- Momentarily distracted by a Styrofoam container of food, Truman licks his chops.
- Truman takes a whiff of containers that might be holding explosive materials used in Little Joe, a cannon operated by the Army ROTC unit during football games.
- Alert and ready, Truman listens for his next command.
- Almost finished with a full afternoon of work, Truman takes a quick break and searches for a drink.
- Random bag checks are among Truman's duties. This bag belongs to a camera crew set up on the south side of Memorial Stadium.
- Demonstrating his agility, Truman climbs a ladder to search a media vehicle.
- Officer Brayer began working with Truman in September. He usually works the evening shift, but during Homecoming weekend, he worked more than 24 straight hours to help secure a safe environment for everyone on campus.
While Truman the Tiger works the crowd at high-profile sports events, Mizzou’s other furry Truman quietly goes about his job protecting the crowd.
The black-and-gold dog who wears a badge is an explosives expert, and this is his story.
In many ways, Truman’s tale is homage to strays waiting for adoption. Truman left puppyhood behind at Columbia’s Central Missouri Humane Society after displaying the intelligence and drive needed for work in explosives detection. He is MU’s third explosives canine and replaces Enzo, who retired with health problems.
Despite the seriousness of his job and his intimidating appearance, Truman is calm and friendly. A German shepherd/chow mix, he has the typical shepherd look: velvety black muzzle, upright ears, and a coarse coat that weaves down his back in colors from golden tan to brown-black.
After just four months of training, Truman eagerly jumps into the back seat of “his” squad car, ready to patrol campus for the MU Police Department.
He and his partner, Officer Chris Brayer, who became a team in September, work the night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
It’s a blast
Going on patrol is regular duty, but looking for explosives as part of the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad becomes a hide-and-seek adventure for Truman, who can identify several suspect materials.
Because he’s the only explosives canine in the area, Truman shares his services with agencies from the city, county and outlying municipalities as the go-to guy who sniff-inspects suspicious packages and checks for possible explosives.
Truman is all business on a bomb sweep. He walks on a leash at Brayer’s left side and works the perimeter of areas first.
“Check it. Check it,” Brayer says while pointing to objects that need attention and “good boy” when the dog sniffs specific objects.
Other members of the bomb squad (see sidebar) conduct visual inspections ahead of Truman, looking for unusual wires or unlatched locks. To keep Truman engaged, they hide explosives for him to find — in cupboards and bags or even on ledges above the dog’s head.
When Truman locates an explosive, he sits, points his nose toward the material and cocks his head. If he’s suspicious about a smell but can’t identify it as an explosive, he sits without cocking his head.
Brayer catches the subtle difference. “Good dog,” he says and pulls a treat from his pocket.
Truman’s training prepares him to stay focused during searches that can last for hours. He and Brayer train with Joe Caputo, operations coordinator for the Central Missouri Humane Society, who has produced more than 60 canine teams in his career.
It was Caputo who noticed Truman’s intelligence and selected him for explosives detection. He’s impressed with the skills Truman and Brayer are acquiring.
“They’re learning together. They have to get to know each other,” he says. “The dog doesn’t read the book, so he may do something unexpected. Chris learns to make adjustments on the fly.”
Caputo earned his credentials with the New York City Police Department, where he retired as lead canine trainer. He was one of four dog handlers working as first responders at ground zero of the collapsed World Trade Center.
Caputo predicts Truman will easily pass his upcoming certification exam: “It’s nice to train a dog who was a stray and who can give back to the community.”
Dog on duty
On Homecoming weekend, Truman and Brayer joined the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad in an explosives sweep of Memorial Stadium before the Mizzou fans and Boomer Sooners arrived. Underground storage areas, locker rooms, broadcast booths and luxury boxes all survived the sniff test.
Truman sniffs for scents while walking at a fairly rapid pace, taking deeper breaths to check spaces between cupboards and other small openings. Some smells, such as food, can be distractions. His favorite is hot dogs.
“Leave it,” Brayer reminded the dog who showed an interest in spilled food on the floor.
Truman passed the hallway buffet with admirable restraint but lost focus momentarily in a box suite when he caught the scent of popcorn and chocolate chip cookies. “Hey,” Brayer said to get him back on track.
Because concentration can be even more difficult in the food-preparation area downstairs, Brayer kept his partner moving to avoid temptation.
“Focus,” he said with a tug at the leash when Truman veered toward a steel counter laden with food.
After a couple of hours, the team stopped for a break in one of the suites. Only Truman, who reclined on the carpeting with head facing the door, enjoyed a treat.
A lick and a promise
Working with a four-legged partner produces plenty of warm fuzzies for Brayer. Truman is a clever clown with a big heart and huge paws that have more than once accidentally hit the switch for the squad-car siren, which is why he now rides in the back seat.
He’s the dog Brayer always wanted but never had because his parents have allergies. At least, that’s what they told him.
Like most service partners who depend on each other, man and beast have formed a close bond.
When they’re thirsty, Brayer fills a cup with water and offers it to the dog. Truman takes a few licks, and Brayer has a couple of swallows, in that order. “It’s a partner thing,” Brayer says.
When they’re working, it’s Truman who draws the most attention, especially from women. Brayer usually accommodates requests to pet Truman, who will sit and soak up the affection.
“Bye Truman,” an elevator attendant said as the bomb squad exited her elevator on the third floor of the stadium. “Cute puppy,” a food worker commented and watched the team pass.
And that’s the way work goes for MU’s canine cop.
On duty at football games, Brayer rewards Truman with halftime visits to Touchdown Terrace for petting and some play with kids and staff members.
Playtime is a required break for working dogs, so Brayer keeps a tennis ball in the squad car for a quick game of fetch, which Truman loves. If no one will throw a tennis ball, he’ll toss it into the air himself.
At the end of their shift, Truman and partner will go home together to family — Brayer’s wife, Kim, and her German shepherd.
But first, back at the station, one of the partners runs off some energy while the other files their shift reports.