Vargas: The amazing story of APD’s Bruno underscores the human side of policing


Bruno, the celebrity Anaheim Police K9 officer, passed away early Wednesday, June 18. He never fully recovered after having surgery related to complications from being shot two years ago.

Bruno’s heroic story and battle to recover resonated with the public in a way that was unprecedented.

It was the type of story that could have been scripted in Hollywood.

Bruno was searching for a dangerous armed gang member with members of the SWAT team when he found the suspect hiding in a trash can.

While attempting to engage the suspect, Bruno was shot, taking a bullet meant for one of the officers.

While officers shot it out with the suspect, Bruno, despite his injuries, tried to get back in the game. RJ Young, his handler, noticed his partner’s wounds and held him back.

RJ noticed his partner struggling with each breath. Knowing it was now a life-or-death situation, RJ put Bruno in the police unit and drove him with red lights and siren to Yorba Regional Animal Hospital on the other side of the city.

Along the way, police officers cleared intersections. The streets of Anaheim were filled with lights and sirens.

By the time they made it to the hospital Bruno was barely conscious.

Bruno immediately was taken into surgery. Dogs from around the county and his fellow Anaheim K9s donated blood.

The Anaheim Police Department shared updates on Bruno’s progress. At times the updates were hourly.

The public response was overwhelming.

Notes and comments expressing concern and sympathy came from around the world.

The whole world watched a short video clip of Bruno taking his first bites of food.

Bruno’s release from the hospital seven weeks later was covered by media from all over the country.

Bruno would go on to be featured on “Good Morning America,” in People magazine and in publications around the world.

After his retirement, Bruno continued to work. He was the grand marshal of the Anaheim 4th of July parade, he threw out the first ball at an Angels game and represented the Anaheim Police Department at countless community events.

As recently as a few weeks ago, Bruno was at the Orange County Pet Expo still attracting fans.

RJ’s wife, Rachel, even wrote a children’s book about Bruno’s adventures with their daughter Grace.

Bruno was arguably the most famous police K9 in the country. He was America’s K9 cop.

At a time when the reputation of policing was struggling, Bruno came to the rescue. His story allowed the public to see firsthand the special relationship between a K9 officer and his partner. In doing so, he showed the very human side of policing.

I am not a theologian, but I don’t believe there can be a heaven if there aren’t any dogs. As such, I want to believe Bruno is now in a special place continuing to be ever watchful.

Thank you Bruno for your service and sacrifice. You gave it your all. Your partners will take it from here.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at