Bear is a playful chocolate Lab who loves hot dogs and giving kisses and has a ton of energy.
But the 2½-year-old pup from Las Vegas is also the county’s newest tool in fighting drug crime.
Bear was sworn in Tuesday — paw on the official oath document before President Judge Dennis Reinaker — as a K-9 officer for the drug task force.
He’ll go to work immediately with Detective Anthony Lombardo.
Bear’s drug-sniffing abilities will be utilized during search warrants, car stops and buy-busts.
“In search warrants especially, he’ll be invaluable in saving a lot of time,” Lombardo said. “What he can search in 10 minutes would probably take us an hour. He smells about 400 times better than we do.”
Bear is only the third drug-sniffing K-9 in the 29-year history of the drug task force. The last retired more than a decade ago.
Since then, the task force has used K-9s from area police departments but the practice wasn’t always convenient.
“It’s very difficult,” Lombardo said. “We’re like — we get a phone call and it changes everything. We’re spur of the moment. At any given time there may or may not be a drug dog working in the county and a lot of times we would really need one and couldn’t get one. So we’ve been talking about (getting our own) for a while.”
Bear was obtained in August by Tarheel Canine Training in Sanford, North Carolina, and then went through 3 1/2 months of training there. Lombardo spent three weeks in North Carolina in November, learning how to work with and take care of his new partner.
The duo returned to the Lancaster area the day before Thanksgiving.
Bear is the only law enforcement K-9 in the county whose sole purpose is drug detection. He’s trained to search for heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine.
Lombardo said Labrador retrievers are the “hottest thing right now” as far as drug dogs because of their hunting instincts.
The cost of the dog and it’s training runs about $10,000, with an additional $900 annually for continued training.
Harrisburg Pike Animal Hospital and Dr. Jeff Pendleton are donating all services, procedures and medicines for Bear.
The K-9 program is funded mainly by drug forfeiture money.
“It’s a cycle,” said District Attorney Craig Stedman. “We’re using the drug dealers’ money to find more of the drugs and get them off the street. And (Bear) will find more, and that’s no fault of (the detectives). There may be stuff they would miss. But he won’t. It will pay off in many, many ways.”
Stedman also talked about the commitment that goes along with such a program.
“One of the things you have to do is — you don’t just get the dog and here we go. There’s constant training, updates, to keep up his skills. If you don’t do that, then he loses that edge and I don’t think you can go back.”
Lombardo trains with Bear several times a week and once a month the two will travel to Philadelphia for an eight-hour session.
“It’s a lot of work,” Lombardo said. “A lot to do on your own time ... “
“It’s a huge commitment for him,” added Stedman of Lombardo.
Both said they appreciate the commitment by Manheim Township police department, where Lombardo is employed.
Most departments only commit an officer to the task force for about three years. Whether or not they stay longer depends on their chief as well as input from a task force supervisor.
Lombardo has already been part of the task force for 9 1/2 years. His chief, Tom Rudzinski, committed him to at least another eight to 10 years to be the K-9 handler.
“Lombardo is an experienced detective with the (task force) and we have no intentions of removing him from that position,” Rudzinski wrote in an email.
“(He) has already made a significant impact on the drug problem in Lancaster County, so it made perfect sense to me to allow him to stay a little bit longer and make an even bigger impact with the help of Bear.”
Bear’s down time at work is spent mostly in his very own office which consists of his crate and food and water bowls. He gets some time around the other detectives but is being somewhat segregated until he learns his job.
Off-duty hours are spent living with Lombardo, his wife, their two children and a fur sibling.
“He loves the kids and they love him,” Lombardo said, adding that Bear is pretty “chill” at home but “still has a lot of puppy in him and can get a little hyper” at times.
Although together for only about six weeks, Lombardo and his partner have already become inseparable.
“He’s goes with me everywhere,” Lombardo said. “We spend all day together and go home together. You build a bond quick.”
Bear is expected to remain on the job for about eight years, barring any sort of medical or other issues.
After that, he’ll hopefully become a permanent member of the Lombardo family.
“I’m hoping I get to keep him after he retires,” Lombardo said. “I mean, he already lives with me and I really can’t imagine not being with him day in and day out.”
The district attorney’s office is accepting monetary donations to assist with Bear's continued training, food and other care-related costs.
Contributions can be sent to: Lancaster County District Attorney's Office, c/o Joanna Evans, 50 N. Duke St., Lancaster, Pa. 17602.