Officer RJ Young stood in front of the Anaheim Police Department East Station’s police service dog memorial Friday afternoon. His eyes dropped to the spot where his late partner’s name is inscribed on the side. His face tensed for a moment and he looked away.
A few minutes later, Young spoke briefly to reporters May 20 about Bruno, his K9 partner who famously took a bullet in the jaw and chest to save Young and other police officers two years ago. Bruno died from complications after gastrointestinal surgery earlier this week.
He was 10.
Bruno retired from police work shortly after his recovery from the shooting, but the death came as a shock to Young and his family. Young told reporters: “It was one of the worst days of my life. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. It doesn’t seem real yet.”
But despite everything, as Young explained, Bruno’s passing was unexpected.
“Obviously, because of what happened two years ago, he’s had a lot of follow-up stuff,” Young said. “He’s had to go in every four or five months for checkups.”
Young and his family would board Bruno with their vet when they went on vacation. Doing so saved Bruno’s life not long after retirement when Bruno suffered from a potentially deadly case of bloat — a twisting of the stomach — and his veterinary team was able to operate in time.
While Young’s family was on vacation in the Dominican Republic, the bloat returned. Again, the veterinary team performed surgery, but “[Bruno’s] body just didn’t recover from the anesthesia, and things began to deteriorate from there.”
Added Young: “Other than with my daughter, all of my fondest memories are with him in the car,” Young said about placing Bruno in the back of a police car for his final moments. It was one of the places Bruno loved most. “I think that’s where he wanted to be, so I got to be with him there and say my goodbyes and …
“I wish I could put it into words. It’s only a bond that somebody else who’s done it will understand,” Young said. “As much as people love their dogs or as much as they are a part of your family, wait until that dog has saved your life once, twice, 10 times. That bond is truly unexplainable. I can only equate it with losing one of my children.”
Halo, Young’s new K9 partner, got along with Bruno well and has helped ease the pain for Young and his family.
“There is a hole in my heart that can never be filled, but I’m fortunate that I have Halo to fill at least part of it,” Young said.