VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System
VAPD’s PAWS-ative addition!
Cuddling up to this friendly furry creature is encouraged, especially if you’re in need of smiles. He is a softy on the outside, but inside, he has a heart of lion and is dedicated to serving and protecting Veterans and staff at VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. Bruno, a one-year old Chocolate Labrador, is the newest addition to the facility’s Police department in the form of a K-9. Bruno’s nose and ears can detect what the average human’s senses are unable to see or smell. When a patient is lost for example, VA Police Department’s K-9 unit can help authorities find that individual.
“Bruno can pick up scents or hear the missing patient faster than people and with less resources,” said VAPD K-9 Sergeant Ronald O’Bannon. “If someone were seen running into heavy shrubbery or wooded areas, VAPD can dispatch Bruno to find them.”
Locating suspected narcotics on the grounds or in patient’s living quarters is another one of Bruno’s expertise. His training and keen sense of smell can assist medical staff and VAPD trace hidden drugs that were missed during a visual inspection of a patient’s room.
“Bruno’s talents add an extra level of security and safety Veterans appreciate, especially those receiving drug and alcohol addiction treatment and want to live in a sober, clean and drug free environment.”
O’Bannon, Bruno’s trusted handler, served five years in the U.S. Coast Guard as a tactical law enforcement officer dog handler. After separating from the military and serving as a civilian in the Department of Defense and VAPD Las Vegas, he accepted a position in early June at VAGLAHS to take part in the medical center’s inaugural K-9 program.
Discussions to adopt a K-9 unit for the local VAPD began as early as 2012. Despite the lengthy process, support for the K-9 program never wavered. Executive leadership and law enforcement understood the significance of the K-9s not only as a force multiplier but also as a friendly bridge between law enforcement and Veterans.
“The dog itself, everywhere we take it, everywhere we go, you can see that connection,” said Captain Alfred Montero, VAGLAHS K-9 program manager. “It brings us together; Veterans understand the police and, we understand the Veterans.”
Bruno has already made a difference deterring illegal activity in the short amount of time he’s been on station. According to Montero, Veterans are aware VAPD have the dog so they know to keep the drugs away.
“I’ve been here for 23 years so I’ve known some of the Veterans for a long time and I continue to see some of them here, but, they’re trying. I think the dog is going to make a big impact on their life and maybe this will be the one deciding factor where they’ll be able to make it and overcome their drug addiction.”
The Bruno and O’Bannon duo is the first of two K-9 units assigned to VAGLAHS. Oscar, a German Shorthaired Pointer and his handler, Lieutenant Ralph Garcia, will join the program in November after completing K-9 law enforcement training in Riverside, California.
Once they arrive at the medical center, handlers are responsible for the overall care of their K-9 24 hours-a-day, and that includes regular training sessions, feedings, grooming, baths and of course clean ups. Despite the extra after-hours of care, VAPD K-9 handlers enjoy their job and know their work is improving the lives of service members at the VA.
“When Veterans come up to me and say ‘Thank you, I appreciate you coming over here,’ that instant gratitude from staff as well as Veterans is the most rewarding thing about my job,” said O’Bannon.