LORAIN, Ohio — The dog whisperer carries a pistol, but rarely uses it.
Police Officer Richard Broz relies on patience and instinct to win dogs over.
“A lot of cops are afraid of dogs,” Broz said. “A dog growls at them and they think the dog’s going to attack them, and the dog gets shot.”
Broz, an officer since 1990, has had to shoot vicious dogs three times, but only as a last resort. He goes out of his way to avoid violence. On March 15, he climbed a fence and used a snare pole to keep a pit bull that was caught in a fence from biting him.
Broz on Feb. 22 crawled under a car to leash a loose pit bull that had been sprayed by a skunk, but turned out to be friendly. Sometimes the dogs jump into his police cruiser when he leaves the door open. Broz since last summer has become the officer dispatchers call for dog complaints.
“He takes a special interest,” said Dr. Thomas Wood, a veterinarian at the Lorain Animal Clinic where Broz takes strays for treatment before they are turned over to the Lorain County Dog Kennel. “He’ll go the extra mile.”
The clinic has worked with the police department since 1956 and handles between 300 and 500 animals annually, Wood said. Broz is a familiar face, dropping off dogs on a weekly basis.
Those with tags are reunited with their owners quickly. Most are friendly, but some, who may have been abused, are not.
Broz has volunteered at the Friendship Animal Protective League since 2012. He works on controlling his fear of being bitten, something dogs can sense and react aggressively to.
Training includes sitting in a cage with a dog that is not vicious but won’t socialize. Broz said sometimes it takes an hour, but the dog will eventually come to him.
Broz, who spends several hours per week volunteering, said it’s given him a better understanding of canine behavior. That allows him to interact better with dogs he encounters on patrol.
“I’ve had a number of dogs that I’m pretty sure most guys (officers) probably would’ve shot just because of the way the dog was acting,” he said. “With a person, you can bluff them and get them to back down, get them to cooperate. You can’t do that with a dog because a dog will smell your fear.”
Greg Willey, league executive director, said the league, formed in 1957, has about 115 volunteers. Willey said Broz is among the most dedicated.
“He’s the guy who will do anything you ask of him,” Willey said. “He’ll never complain.”
Broz is part of the “Muttley Crew,” a group of volunteers who walk dogs three times per week. Broz also cleans kennels, does maintenance and helps care for cats and dogs at the league.
The shelter in Elyria has about 35 dogs and 110 cats. Willey said the extensive amount of time Broz spends with the animals at the shelter allows him to build a rapport with them.
That helps on the street where police don’t have much help with dogs. Lorain hasn’t had a dog catcher since 2009 due to budget cuts. And since the resignation of the county’s deputy dog warden earlier this month, Chief Deputy Dog Warden Nelson Delgado is responsible for covering the entire county.
Officers received five days of training from Wood about two months ago on avoiding getting bit or having to shoot dogs. Nonetheless, deadly encounters do occur. Three dogs who police said were aggressive were fatally shot by officers during a two-day period in January.
Concern about dogs being shot prompted Broz to ask to respond to dog calls outside his patrol district. His supervisor, Lt. Daniel Reinhardt, granted him permission.
Broz said he’s never been bitten on patrol but was bitten at the shelter by a dog that had to eventually be killed. However, by being calm and patient, Broz said he can usually get dogs to come to him.
“It’s kind of hard to explain. I can’t teach it to the other cops,” he said. “You just have to witness it and practice it.”
With traumatized dogs, Broz uses the snare pole. Most of the time, he is able to calm the dogs and transfer them to a leash. He compares the transfer moment to a bomb squad technician cutting the wire on a bomb.
“You don’t know what a dog’s going to do,” Broz said. “Most of the time everything’s fine, but every once in a while you may misread the dog, and all of a sudden you’re scrambling to avoid getting bit.”
Broz used the snare pole to walk a 2-year-old mixed pit bull named Skeeter while volunteering at the shelter. After about 45 minutes, he was able to transfer Skeeter to a leash and bond with him.
Broz was eventually able to adopt Skeeter, who now is sociable. “He even gets along with my cats,” Broz said.
The last dog Broz adopted was an emotionally wrenching experience. Herbie was an emaciated pit bull with a grotesquely swollen head that Broz found in December 2012 lying in a yard.
Broz said Herbie appeared to have been neglected and dumped, although the owner, a 36-year-old Cleveland man, denied it and no charges were filed. With Wood’s help, Herbie recuperated, but he was diagnosed with brain cancer and died in March 2013.
Herbie’s story sparked outrage with about 20,000 people following him on Facebook and about 1,000 responding to Broz’s post when Herbie died. “It was very difficult,” Broz said of the experience.
Broz said a law mandating that all cats and dogs are spayed and neutered except for those owned by licensed breeders would reduce the overpopulation that contributes to abuse and neglect. Broz, 52, said he has always been an animal lover and his experiences the last couple years with dogs made him realize he is good with them.
“It’s very satisfying to save a dog’s life,” he said.