The suspect pulled out his weapon, and the deafening sound of gunshots ripped through the air. But police badges weren’t the only shields on display that day. No, Bruno’s body proved to be the barrier that saved the life of his partner.
After a six-year career with the police force in Anaheim, California, Bruno was shot in the line of duty. At seven years of age, he may seem like he was very young for an officer. But Bruno was actually the longest-serving member of his squad. You see, Bruno was a dog.
To be more precise, Bruno was a sable German shepherd in the force’s K-9 unit, and he was partnered with Officer RJ Young, who became his handler. What’s more, over the time they worked together, the two would grow to become the best of friends.
According to RJ’s wife, Rachel, her husband spent most of his time with Bruno. “I know a lot of people may not understand,” she told ABC News in March 2014. “They may say it’s just a dog, but this dog went with him everywhere.”
“The dog [spent] more time with him than I [spent] with him,” she added. Indeed, the partners in crime-fighting had a seemingly unbreakable bond. And it was this connection that apparently saved Officer Young’s life during an emergency call-out to a crime scene.
The incident in question happened in March 2014 when parole officers came under fire. They were visiting the apartment of a probationer when the encounter took a turn for the worse. The parolee was spotted with two suspected gang members, who both fled the scene when approached.
One of the probation officers gave chase and, upon following the men down an alley, was met with gunfire. Police responded by sending out a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. And Young’s K-9 unit accompanied them to track the perpetrators with his loyal companion.
It was Bruno, moreover, who found the gunman hiding nearby. Unfortunately, the perp was ready for them. He fired at the officers, who responded in kind and shot the man – later named as 21-year-old Robert Moreno Jr. – dead. But the force had suffered their own casualty in the firefight, too.
A bullet hit Bruno in the face as he threw himself in the line of fire to protect his charges. “[Bruno was shot] point blank,” Officer Young told ABC News. “It was a horrific thing to have to watch. My entire world came crumbling down in the matter of a second.”
Yet despite him suffering serious wounds, the first thing Bruno did was return to check on his partner. Next, the heroic hound was rushed to an animal clinic; the police even shut down roads to speed his progress. “[It] was a team effort, for sure,” Young said.
However, when surgeons looked at Bruno, the news wasn’t good. The bullet had splintered the German shepherd’s jaw and lanced his chest, piercing a lung. In fact, had the gunman aimed an inch to the side, the slug would have hit Bruno’s heart.
Considering the fact that the bullet was so close to Bruno’s vital organs, doctors decided that they would have to leave it in him. Regardless, he still needed surgery, and medical staff had to extract a part of his damaged lung. His chances of survival were touch and go.
“As devastated and heartbroken as I [was] over Bruno, my husband came home,” Rachel Young told CBS in March 2014. “There were three other guys there with him, and it could have been one of those. I spoke to another wife, and she said that their family is just eternally grateful for Bruno.”
But Bruno was a fighter, and he pulled through. “It was a very successful surgery,” said Tim Schmidt, Anaheim police chief. “They took his breathing tube out, and he [healed] exactly the way they [wanted] him to.” And Bruno wasn’t alone when he woke up.
According to the Facebook page “Friends of the Anaheim Police K9 Association,” Bruno was surrounded by well-wishers. “After surgery, Bruno woke up to a room packed with his family and police officer partners,” it reported. “[They] waited for hours outside his room.”
Of course, chief among the K-9’s supporters was Young, who continued to visit Bruno at every opportunity. But the real celebrations happened on May 2, 2014, when the German shepherd was released from hospital. And Bruno’s beloved partner was there to meet him as he left the building.
“He’s like a son to me,” Young said. “Bruno will be with me for the rest of my life.” The dog was subsequently adopted by Young, who took him home to live out his retirement. What’s more, to mark the hero’s recovery, Bruno was welcomed home by K-9 units from all over California.
Bruno fit into family life perfectly and spent two beautiful years with his new owners. Moreover, he developed a special bond with Young’s daughter, Grace. And Bruno’s heroism even saw him immortalized in toy form by the Friends of the Anaheim Police K9 Association.
But on May 18, 2016, a tragic announcement appeared on social media. It seemed that following problems linked to his earlier gunshot wound, Bruno had passed away. Still, he left this world deeply loved and surrounded by his friends and family.
“It’s with heavy hearts we announce the passing of K9 Bruno at approximately 05.55 hours this morning,” the announcement read. “Bruno was a warrior to the end and we will never forget OUR HERO! Rest well 26K2; we know you will be vigilantly watching over RJ and the rest of us from Heaven.”