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Nov. 18, 2010 Volume 32, No. 13

Canine cop: On the job with MU’s other Truman


WORKING TOGETHER Officer Chris Bray, of the MU Police Department, and Truman, an explosives canine, share a moment during a recent shift. Brayer and Truman became a team in September. As part of the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad, they conduct sweeps at public events, inspecting suspicious packages and hidden areas for possible explosives. Shane Epping photo.


Furry explosives expert keeps the game-day peace

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.

After displaying the intelligence and drive needed for work in explosives detection, Truman, a German shepherd/chow mix, became MU’s third explosives canine, replacing Enzo, who retired with health problems.

Despite the seriousness of his job and his intimidating appearance, Truman is calm and friendly, with 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, he and his partner, Officer Chris Brayer, of the MU Police Department, became a team in September. They work the night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., looking for explosives as part of the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad. 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. Other members of the bomb squad 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, pulling a treat from his pocket.

Joe Caputo, operations coordinator for the Central Missouri Humane Society, has produced more than 60 canine teams in his career. He was the first to notice 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,” Caputo says. “The dog doesn’t read the book, so he may do something unexpected. Chris learns to make adjustments on the fly.”

On Homecoming weekend, Truman and Brayer joined the Mid-Missouri Bomb Squad in a pre-game explosives sweep of Memorial Stadium. Truman sniffs for scents while walking at a fairly rapid pace, taking deeper breaths to check underground storage areas, locker rooms, broadcast booths and luxury boxes.

Some smells, such as food, can be distractions. 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.

When Truman veered toward a steel counter laden with food, Brayer gave a tug at the leash. “Focus,” he said.

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.

When they’re working, it’s Truman who draws the most attention, especially from women. “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.

On duty at football games, Brayer rewards Truman with halftime visits to Touchdown Terrace for petting and 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.

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.

— Nancy Moen

Reprinted with permission of Mizzou Wire