STEUBENVILLE — Months after losing Bono, his legendary K9 partner, Steubenville Police Sgt. Rob Cook is building the same kind of bond with Puma, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois.
The two finished their basic training in mid-April.
“She’s very, very high energy,” Cook said of his new K9 partner. “She’s young and a little on the small side, so she’s a little more agile. She likes to jump a lot — on anything.”
K9 Bono, known for his fierce, intimidating bark and impressive tracking ability, died unexpectedly in November. Well known in crime fighting circles, he’d taken part in about 579 searches in 2020 alone that led to roughly 220 drug seizures, 160 drug paraphernalia seizures and 20 firearm seizures.
“People see a well-trained police dog and it commands respect,” Cook said. “But at the same time, Bono had several years to build up (his) reputation.”
But Cook said K9 Puma is already showing signs of greatness to come.
“She’s doing really well,” he said. “She’s already had a couple really good finds as far as narcotics go. To me, more importantly, when we’ve been looking for suspects, we’ve used her to clear buildings — that’s a safety factor for us. It means we didn’t have to go in ourselves.”
In May, Puma tracked a bank robbery suspect as well as a pair of escapees from Eastern Ohio Correction Center, which he said was particularly impressive, given the walkaways had gone through a remote area and “every once in a while, left a footprint in the mud.”
“It just takes time and work,” he said. “The work is never done. That’s the thing about being a K9 handler, there’s always something to improve on. Bono, because he had so many years under his belt, he knew what was going on as soon as I opened the door. I just opened the car door and stayed out of his way. He was on auto pilot. He knew what to do without me even telling him. Puma will get there.”
Bono, he said, was much bigger and may have looked a little more intense because of an auto immune disorder that had caused the hair around his eyes to fall out. Puma currently weighs in at around 65 pounds.
“She’s very social,” he said. “She has that happy-go-lucky demeanor, but she also has a switch and when it’s time to work, she does work.”
At home he said Puma “randomly jumps on whatever she can find.”
Officially, he said he and Puma do mandatory maintenance training 16 hours a month — every other Wednesday — with the Police K9 Association in Canton “to maintain proficiency in all her skills. They also purchase equipment for the dogs at no cost to the handler or agency.”
Unofficially, “every single day we do something training-wise,” he said.
“Most handlers, if they’re dedicated to it, will do at least a little something every day,” he explained. “If you want to be good at it, you have to … whether you work on narcotics detection, apprehension work, article detection or obedience.”
He said it’s about building a two-way trust between dog and handler.
“It’s a give and take,” he said. “I have to let Puma be independent and do things her natural abilities allow her to do, but I also need to know when to move in and help her, and when to get out of the way.”
Puma, like Bono before her, was acquired through the generosity of the Teramana family. Fifth Ward Councilman Willie Paul, council’s finance committee chairman, said additional funds donated by community residents will be applied to the purchase of a second K9, which council is already planning.
“The Teramana family has been a huge supporter,” Cook said. “But, besides them there’s been a lot of support in the public for our K9 program — including veterinary care, food. Everything we need is pretty much donated.”