BURRILLVILLE – There was Conaan, then Kilo, then Kramer, then Bosco – but it’s been more than a decade since the Burrillville Police Department had a K-9 on the beat.
That changed this week when Rex, a 1-year-old German Shepherd and his handler, Off. Bret Simas, graduated training and went out on patrol.
The pair just completed 20 weeks of training in West Greenwich under supervision of a state police canine officer. After graduating both patrol and narcotics school, the alert pup, who by all accounts is a “good boy,” has been certified by American K-9 Association.
The pair went into service last weekend, bringing back to life a program dormant in town for some ten years.
“He’s certified in tracking people who are missing or wanted, and narcotics,” explained Col. Stephen Lynch of his newest hire, noting Rex is also trained in crowd control. “It’s a great resource.”
The program was funded with a grant from the Stanton Foundation, used to cover both the training and infrastructure to keep a K-9 on the force, from food and vet bills, to protective gear for the dog and modifications to cruiser he’ll ride in to patrol Burrillville’s streets.
Simas and Rex will be constant companions, primarily working second and third shifts.
“He can locate pieces of evidence of a crime,” noted Simas, adding that training for the young pup was challenging. Other dogs in the class were up to twice Rex’s age – which is actually a long-term advantage according to BPD’s last K-9 handler, Lt. Guy Riendeau.
“You bond as a team quicker and better, and you have longevity,” Riendeau explained.
But the long-term advantage comes with some short-term struggles.
“Obviously, their maturity level is different,” Simas said of the older dogs. “He’s a puppy. He’s got a lot of drive, which is good. It’s like having a kid, to be honest.”
Simas was chosen for the job following an application process last year. A 26-year-old who has served two years with the BPD, Lynch noted the officer was a good match for the program because he also relatively young, with plenty of energy to devote to the job.
“I’m really lucky because I’m early on in my career,” Simas said. “It was always something I wanted to do.”
That’s important, the officers noted, because handling a K-9 can be a lot of work. The large pup, who hails from Czechoslovakia, was impatient this week as Simas spoke with NRI NOW, barking and vying for more of his partner’s attention.
“He likes playing catch as much as he likes chasing bad guys,” said Simas. “I try to do stuff to keep him occupied. He’s hyper because he’s looking for something to do.”
Rex needed a partner, Riendeau noted, who was not close to retirement.
“You’re looking for an energetic handler who is good with animals, and able to bring a dog into his household,” the lieutenant said. “It’s longevity of handler and dog. They make a really good team.”
The commitment is worth it, according to Patrol Commander Lt. Albert Carlow, who noted that without a K-9 on duty, Burrillville has to call out to other law enforcement agencies for tasks such a searching for a missing person.
“You usually run into it around twice a year where you need a dog,” said Carlow, noting a department will use a K-9 far more often when there’s one available. “There’s only a limited number in the state.”
The program also means work for BPD in other communities, which brings in additional funding for the department.
“People don’t realize how much a dog can do,” said Simas, noting that Rex can also locate lost property. “He’s a good, working dog.”
Burrilliville historically had a canine program, and Rex will be the department’s fifth dog. Riendeau spoke fondly this week of his time working with Bosco, who joined BPD in 1989.
“It’s probably one of the highlights of my career,” Riendeau said. “It’s one of the most loyal partners you’ll ever have.”
Residents will begin to see Rex in the upcoming months at community outreach events, such as K-9 demonstrations. But Simas noted that the canine is a guard – not a compassion dog – and people should be cautious not to run up and scare his partner.
“He’s really good with other dogs,” said the handler. “He’s very alert.”
“It’s exciting,” Simas added of the program. “He challenges me and I challenge him. He’s one of the best partners ever, and it’s fun.”
“He’s a good boy,” Simas said. “I trust him.”