A four-legged officer, with a droopy face and big floppy ears, is the newest member of the Mt. Lebanon Police Department.
Partnered with Ofc. Dan McBride, Bear, a 14-month-old scent-discriminant bloodhound, started patrols last week. His special skills? He has a pretty impressive nose that can find a lost person based on their scent even several days after they went missing–depending on the weather and environmental conditions.
“He’s going to be a great asset to the department, the community and all of the surrounding communities,” McBride said.
Bear is the department’s fourth K-9 officer since Jerd, a Czech-born German shepherd dog, joined the department in August 1999. He was followed by Sundi, a Hungarian-born German shepherd dog and, most recently, Snieper, a Belgian Malinois, born in Holland, who died of natural causes in October 2021.
Snieper, alongside his partner Ofc. Ben Himan, served as a patrol dog, and was trained in narcotics detection, article searches, tracking and criminal apprehension.
The Mt. Lebanon Police Department decided to make the switch to a bloodhound, based on community need. Mt. Lebanon has more than a dozen schools and preschools in our dense community, with lots of young kids who have the potential to get lost. We also have a number of elderly care facilities in the community, and in the last few years, some fragile seniors have been reported missing for a time. Given that history, officers saw a greater need for a K-9 trained in tracking.
“It’s more appropriate for our uses. We believe a tracking K-9 will be more useful than a patrol dog,” Acting Police Chief Jason Haberman said.
“If there’s someone that needs to be found—he’s the expert in that,” McBride said. “That’s what he’s trained in…. He’s the best at what he does.”
Bear was born in Kentucky and spent the first year of his life at Tin Star K-9 in Winnebago, Illinois, training with retired law enforcement officers. Onboarding him cost roughly $22,000, which included $12,000 for his purchase and his training and $9,000 for a specialized kennel. All of the costs were covered by donations.
From August 7 to 20, McBride joined Bear in Winnebago for training. They tracked in both urban and rural environments and learned to work together.
Bear is named after Mt. Lebanon Police Officer Jerrod Withrow, who died of colon cancer in 2021, while he was a member of the department. Withrow’s nickname was Bear. Like every other officer in the department, Bear will have a badge, and his will be close to Withrow’s. Jerrod’s parents, Gail and Randy Withrow, were lead donors.
“Every time that Bear goes on a call, it’s a little memory of him living on,” McBride said.
When he’s not on duty, Bear lives with McBride and his family–including two other dogs and three kids.
McBride has always been an animal lover, raising wild raccoons, possums, birds and squirrels. In the last few months, he rescued a cat from a sewer while on the job.
Bear’s main job will be tracking, but that doesn’t just mean searching for a missing person. He also can be called out for situations like domestic disputes, where a person fled the scene on foot, or when a person with mental health issues wanders away. Because he’s not trained to bite, Bear can be used on a large variety of calls.
What motivates him? Treats and praise, McBride said.
Bear will spend his first few weeks on the job getting to learn Mt. Lebanon. He’s a farm dog and this is like the big city for him. He’s learning to adapt to the noises from all of the construction vehicles and fire sirens in Mt. Lebanon.
Once Bear gets more acclimated to the role, McBride plans to launch several programs with him. Of course they will stop by schools and community events to meet with residents.
The department plans to provide scent collection kits to people in the community whose fragile or compromised relatives are prone to running away. This will speed up the process if a person needs to be found, as their individual scent will already be saved.
If you see Bear around Lebo, be sure to stop and say “Hi!” McBride said.
Fun facts about Bear:
Likes: Bear loves the water. His favorite thing is playing in a creek or splashing around in the water.
Dislikes: Noises he’s never heard before, like trains and “big loud things.”
Personality: “He’s a goofball,” McBride said.
Favorite toy: A knotted rope that he loves running around with in the yard.
Favorite treat: Venison