Brewster, Bartlett police's reliable K-9, stepping down
It was pitch black when police lost sight of a man who stabbed his estranged wife and daughter in a Lombard home.
The man led police on a chase in his car and then on foot that night in 2008. Hitting a dead end, cops called in a reliable tracker.
Near a Wheaton creek, Brewster got to work. As Bartlett police officer Michael Kmiecik paused to pull out his flashlight, Brewster started barking, his way of telling his handler he sensed the suspect.
Turns out the man was hiding in the creek -- completely submerged, save for his nose peaking above the water. Police arrested the father who later admitted to the stabbings, one of the dozens of criminals Brewster has sniffed out.
"He has never, never let me down," Kmiecik said.
After a nearly decadelong run with Bartlett police's canine unit, Brewster is retiring. The 11-year-old has logged more time than most police dogs, but with arthritis in his back legs, he could risk injury if he continues working.
"It is bittersweet," Kmiecik said. "I love this dog."
It will be a transition for both handler and dog.
Although Brewster will go home with Kmiecik as he always has after their shifts together, the German shepherd bred in Czechoslovakia has to adjust to an easier load as a family dog.
"They're workhorses," Kmiecik said of the breed. "This dog just loves to work."
Before Brewster hangs up his badge Friday, the village recognized the veteran with a plaque -- and a bone -- for an impressive career.
Brewster has recovered 14.5 kilograms of narcotics, more than $5,000 used in drug sales, four firearms, two knifes and "countless" proceeds from robberies and burglaries, Bartlett Sgt. Geoffrey Pretkelis said.
Brewster got his start in a 20-week course run by a Grayslake trainer. The last eight weeks of training were spent with Kmiecik, sometimes under stressful conditions maneuvering in a three-level obstacle course.
"It basically forces the dog to trust the handler, and that's why that bond develops so quickly and so strong," Kmiecik said.
Brewster has trained in three disciplines: patrol, cadaver recovery and drug detection. His snout can pick up cocaine, heroin, meth and marijuana.
His handler kept him sharp with annual certification tests from the North American Police Work Dog Association. And Brewster even hit the treadmill to stay in shape.
If their searches went nowhere, Kmiecik chalked it up to his own error, when he pulled Brewster off seemingly illogical trails.
"Over the years, I learned just trust your dog," Kmiecik said. "My job is to follow his tail."
He's putting that lesson intro practice with Brewster's successor, Luther, named after Bartlett's founder. Kmiecik is in the midst of a rigorous class with the German shepherd before the dog joins the force in late June.
And he's also coming up with ways to keep Brewster engaged and fit at home.
"He is not just my partner, he's part of my family," he said.