A year ago, a man who’d been on the run for eight years after violating parole in Pennsylvania led authorities on a two-mile chase that ended with him hiding under a porch in a residential area.
“He refused to come out, so K9 Bono went in after him,” Deputy U.S. Marshal Chad Simpson, head of the Mountain State Fugitive Task Force, recalls. “For one of us to crawl underneath the porch and wrestle with the guy and bring him out, we would have had trouble, but Bono had no issues at all: He grabbed his arm and pulled him out so we could cuff him without injury to ourselves.”
Bono, the Steubenville Police Department’s K9 officer known for his fierce, intimidating bark and impressive tracking ability, passed unexpectedly a week ago, ending an eight-year relationship with his handler, Sgt. Rob Cook.
“Bono was a special dog,” Cook said. “When you’re a K9 handler, you spend more time with your K9 than you do literally anyone else on the planet. He’s at home with you and he’s at work with you.”
Simpson, a dog handler himself during his Air Force years, said he understands Cook’s loss. His own K9 died unexpectedly not long after he left the service.
“That dog is there for you — a friend, a partner, to protect you,” Simpson said. “He provides a service that none of the other officers can do, by apprehending (law breakers) and keeping everybody safe. All the drugs we found the last couple of years, that’s something we were able to do because of his abilities, they were unbelievable.”
Simpson, who deputized Cook as a MSDTF officer in 2016, said there were “numerous times” when Bono handled situations that could have otherwise ended badly.
“It’s scary going into an unknown house, seeing a guy run into a vacant house, knowing they’re wanted for a violent crime,” Simpson said. “Cook and Bono would challenge houses … Bono would bark like crazy. As soon as Bono started barking and they thought about it a couple seconds, they’d change their mind real quick.”
Patrolman Jim Marquis recalled a prisoner who made a bid for freedom, running from the county building to the North End. “Bono apprehended him,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty believe me, once he got hold of you.
“That dog was good.”
This year alone, he said Bono assisted countless other agencies, including the U.S. Marshal Service, Ohio State Patrol, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and Jefferson County Special Response Team as well as local departments, about 206 times.
He also conducted around 579 searches resulting in roughly 220 drug seizures, 160 drug paraphernalia seizures and 20 firearm seizures.
Bono also appeared at 24 public relations events at local schools and various organizations this year, too.
The numbers are rough, because I haven’t done all of the 2020 stats yet,” Marquis said. “I do that at year end. But they’re close.”
Cook said tracking suspects “was definitely one of (Bono’s) strengths.
“The most memorable situations for me were two situations where people were actively fighting with me to escape being arrested,” he said. “On those occasions I had to use my door popper (a button on my belt that opens the door) and Bono came to my aid. Did he prevent me from getting hurt or worse? I’ll never know. But he definitely prevented the possibility of that happening.”
Simpson said Bono, a Belgian Malinois, was one-of-a-kind, “One of the best dogs I’ve seen — even the best in the area, and it’s not just because he was a great dog. Mostly it was because of Cook’s motivation, he spent a lot of time training to make Bono the way he was.”
He said a good handler knows his dog’s indicator — their tail may wag or their ears may go up, for instance.
“There are so many different indicators,” Simpson adds. “It takes a lot of training and time between the handler and dogs so they can realize what the indicator is. Cook is a natural.”
Cook said Bono was unique “because he was actually born with an immune deficiency that caused the hair around his eyes, jaws and chin to fall out. It gave him an unmistakable look.”
“He developed a reputation, and his bark was deep and intimidating,” he added. “I used to say he had a two-pack of Marlboro Reds a day bark. But I think his best quality was the on and off switch he possessed and his ability to key off my body language and emotions. He could apprehend the worst of the worst yet still go into a school gymnasium full of kids for a demonstration.
“He did anything I asked of him without hesitation because of the bond we shared. I know without a doubt he would have run into any situation to help me or anyone I asked him to help.”
Bono’s accomplishments may sound other worldly, “but the stuff he did was real,” Cook adds. “Superheroes have superpowers to help them do what they do. Bono had none of that. If anything, he had a giant anchor holding him back — me. A good K9’s skills and abilities to do the job are so incomprehensible to us humans that more often than not, we are just in the way. So if there’s a superhero out there that worked with a sidekick that was a giant hindrance to his cause, that’s the one I’d say Bono is most like.”
Chief Bill McCafferty called Bono “a great asset to our department.”
“Along with his drug sniffing abilities, he made the job safe for human officers,” he said. “K9 Bono will be greatly missed.”
Marquis said Bono’s passing “is a great loss. He was an officer, and we’re going to treat his funeral as such.”
He said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1 is hosting a memorial service Wednesday at Historic Fort Steuben beginning at 11 a.m. The Rev. Jason Elliot, pastor of First Westminster Presbyterian Church, will officiate the service, which will include bagpipes and taps. Foster Funeral Homes helped organize the event.
Marquis said the department was able to acquire Bono through the generosity of the Teramana family, and he credited 6th Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna for doggedly pursuing it on council floor while a grant from The Ben Roethlisberger Foundation in 2015 funded a K9 vehicle.
He said FOP Lodge 1 is accepting donations for a new dog.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of K-9 Bono, please visit our floral store.
FOP Lodge #1
123 South Third St., Steubenville OH 43952