SOUTHINGTON — Two feet of snow and single-digit temperatures didn’t stop police dog Arno from tracking three burglars who were part of a nationwide theft ring in 2015.
The German shepherd and his handler, officer John Mahon, retired in December. Arno was nearly 13 when he died on Saturday.
“We were lucky to be able to retire together,” Mahon said from Florida on Monday. He worked with Arno, his second police dog, for a decade.
“He comes to work with you, rides in the car with you your whole shift, and you come home and he’s your dog at home also,” Mahon said. “There’s definitely a bond… Your dog becomes a family member. It’s like losing a family member when they pass.”
He described being a dog handler as “the best job in the police department.”
Mahon was the department’s first K9 officer when he got Gaston in 2001. After Gaston’s retirement, Mahon was paired with Arno and had both dogs for about six months.
Mahon and Arno received the Connecticut Police Work Dog Association tracking award in 2015. Police had been called to the Target store on West Street for a burglary. Arno tracked two suspects over two streams to a wooded area nearby where police also found the getaway driver.
Steve Salerno, a K9 officer with the department, said the men were part of a theft ring that had burglarized Target stores all over the country and were wanted by the FBI.
“He was a phenomenal tracking dog,” Salerno said. “Good handler, good dog. They’re both missed.”
Mahon said Arno did all types of police work.
“He located a lot of people,” Mahon said. “He’s had some good drug seizures also.”
In addition to locating criminals or contraband, Mahon said Arno was popular with the public. He took the dog to demonstrations at schools and before other groups.
“Everybody loves the dogs,” he said.
“They can’t wait to go to work”
Salerno said the loss of a police dog is more than just the loss of a pet. Officers live with their dogs but also depend on them to do their jobs and to watch their backs.
“This animal is ready to put his life on the line for you every minute,” Salerno said. “We’re lucky as handlers to be able to experience that.”
Salerno’s dog perks up whenever he hears the jingle of Salerno’s gun belt. Working creates drive in the dogs, and often that’s lost after they retire.
“They can’t wait to go to work every day,” Salerno said. “They’re sitting there waiting at the door.”