K-9 Bruno (Photo: Young Family)

K-9 Bruno (Photo: Young Family)

He left this world in his favorite spot:

The back of a police car.

Before he died, Bruno — the iconic Anaheim (CA) Police Department K-9 who became internationally known after he took a bullet to the jaw and chest two years ago, almost certainly saving the life of one or more of his human partners — hung on for his best friend.

Officer RJ Young and his family — wife Rachel; daughter Grace, 3; and son Luke, 10 months — were in the Dominican Republic for the wedding of one of RJ's childhood buddies.

They were on their way back to Orange County when RJ got the terrible news Tuesday, May 17:

Get to the vet as soon as possible.

Bruno had been lodged for the family vacation at Yorba Regional Animal Hospital.

He started going into distress Saturday, May 14.

The 10-year-old German shepherd, who served with esteem as an Anaheim PD K-9 for six years before retiring two months after he was shot on March 20, 2014, had taken a turn for the worse following emergency surgery Saturday night for gastrointestinal problems.

Those problems, the APD said, were directly related to injuries Bruno sustained in the line of duty.

On the day he was shot, Bruno had been assisting SWAT officers with a search for an armed suspect who had fired upon probation officers. The perp, who later was fatally shot by police, popped out of a trash can and fired as Bruno tried to nudge off the lid.

The single bullet shattered Bruno's jaw, damaged his lung, and lodged less than an inch from his heart.

***

Late Tuesday night, getting to Yorba Regional Animal Hospital became a race against time for Young.

Bad weather forced his plane to be diverted from Phoenix to Tucson for the final leg of his journey.

Since there were no more flights that night from Tucson, Young rented a car and raced to Orange County.

On the way, he prayed for his longtime police partner whose heroism and dramatic recovery seemed to bring together an entire city after a couple years of tense relations between some members of the community and the police.

It was a 470-mile drive to Anaheim — eight hours, roughly.

Young drove through the night.

Hang on, those with Bruno at the animal hospital repeatedly told the handsome K-9.

Daddy's going to be here.

Don't worry.

***

K-9 Bruno with Officer RJ Young

K-9 Bruno with Officer RJ Young

Although he had weathered countless surgeries, Bruno had been enjoying his retirement.

He had bonded with Young's new K-9 partner, Halo, and especially with Young's two children.

He had become such a beloved playmate of Grace that her mother wrote a children's book, "The Adventures of Bruno and Grace," that was published last year, with a second book on the way.

Young arrived at Yorba Regional Animal Hospital just before 4 a.m. Wednesday.

When he approached his dear friend, Bruno let out a howl.

Some of the vets were at the hospital on their own time to try to help Bruno.

Many were crying.

At 5:55 a.m., the decision was made to put Bruno out of his suffering.

A vet injected the drugs that would put him to sleep.

Young then placed him in the back of a K-9 patrol unit – the spot where Bruno was happiest.

He always wanted to go to work.

After he died, a U.S. flag was placed over him.

***

Anaheim PD Chief Raul Quezada was on his way to work when he got an email informing him of Bruno's passing.

"It's very tragic," Quezada said at the City National Grove of Anaheim on Wednesday morning after a promotion and graduation ceremony for Anaheim Fire & Rescue.

"Bruno obviously was a hero for us," Quezada said. "He's truly a representation and reflection of our organization: one who serves without hesitation and who obviously put his life on the line.

"(His passing) really hit home to a lot of us. When we got the message over the weekend he was going into surgery and then we got the message this morning, it was just tragic. He's obviously part of our family, and will definitely be missed."

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman said during the ceremony that Bruno was "a hero in the police department and an icon for the City of Anaheim."

Added Bruegman: "His story is one of significant importance, but I think it also is indicative of the difficult task that our police officers have each and every day when they go out in the field."

Bruno had been scheduled to be the grand marshal of the America Rides event this coming Saturday, May 21 – a motorcycle ride for veterans — the latest in a long list of appearances at public events and on television since Bruno became a symbol of all that is good in law enforcement.

***

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Anaheim PD Sgt. Daron Wyatt stood in front of a statue at La Palma Dog Park inspired by Bruno.

On the base of the statue, "Valor," someone had left a note honoring Bruno:

You are a true hero and may you rest in peace. We love you.

Wyatt choked up as he talked about his fallen comrade.

"He's touched countless lives," Wyatt said.

A few APD K-9 officers were on hand to talk to reporters about Bruno, who during his APD career was responsible for $3 million worth of narcotics seizures and numerous felony apprehensions, including that of the driver convicted of murdering Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two friends, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson, in a DUI collision in 2010.

Cheryl Timmons, president and cofounder of Friends of the Anaheim Police K-9 Association, which raises money for APD K-9s during and after their service, said in her 18 years with the non-profit she's never seen such a close bond between an officer and K-9 than that of Young and Bruno.

Sgt. Ray Drabek, supervisor of the K-9 detail, which has six handlers and their four-legged partners, said Bruno's passing has been hard on everybody at the APD.

"It's hard for Officer Young, for his family, for our unit," Drabek said. "It's a pretty emotional moment. Even for people who weren't there (at the hospital), when I went around the department and told people what happened you could see people tearing up.

"Just telling the story, people got real emotional about it."

Bruno is the first Anaheim PD K-9 killed in the line of duty in the agency's history.

A memorial service is pending.

---Behind the Badge

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