After reading the notice in the Star about the retirement of a bomb sniffing dog named JR from the Tucson Police Department, I was so impressed with his life story that I decided to seek out people who have known him.
Everybody likes JR and many were more than happy to share stories about him. As with all stories about those we admire, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these stories have grown a little over time. But all of them had so many common threads, I’m sure they are solidly rooted in the truth.
When JR was a youngster, he was very likable, but he seemed to lack direction. He scrounged around, picking up scraps here and there. He managed to pick up some work as a duck retriever. He enjoyed working outdoors, and he discovered that he seemed to be a natural for the job.
But it was only seasonal work, and he knew he needed to find something steady.
Reduced to knocking over garbage cans in the off season, he happened onto a discarded copy of Police magazine. He saw a notice that an elite academy for bomb sniffing K9s in Wisconsin was offering scholarships for well-qualified applicants.
Moved by an unexplainable feeling of responsibility to be man’s best friend, he wondered whether a career in law enforcement might be for him. He submitted an application, stressing his excellent record of sniffing out the locations of downed ducks in the thickets of briars and brambles surrounding Pena Blanca Lake. He was accepted, and the door to a new career was opened.
Graduating near the top of his class, he was offered a job with the Tucson Police Department Bomb Squad. He quickly distinguished himself by fearlessly entering even the most dangerous situations and performing searches in a thorough and professional manner.
Driven to be the best that he could be, he continued his education while working full time. He became certified in detection of guns and shell casings, and earned U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms certification in detection of explosives ordinance. Arriving at a crime scene, the other K9s would see the certification badges from his elite training on his K9 police vest, recognize him as the senior K9 officer on the scene and follow his lead.
He was a big fan of the University of Arizona basketball and football teams. He volunteered for the security details at McKale Center and Arizona Stadium, so he could get in to watch the games. Over the years, he came to know many of the players, coaches and fans.
After 10 years of exemplary service on the force, the department honored him with a retirement ceremony last month. Chief Chris Magnus joked that members of the bomb squad don’t reach retirement age unless they are very good at their jobs. But JR was modest in his comments, saying that he could not have achieved his success without the support of the department and his longtime partner, Officer Rob McCusker.
JR now gets to spend some time back at Pena Blanca Lake, swapping stories with fellow retirees. Don’t be surprised if those stories grow a little over time, but they’ve earned every right to tell them.