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After years of serving the campus, a nimble member of the Cornell Police Department and Cornell’s first police dog, Sabre, died on Jan. 5. The 12-year-old dog, which suffered from a chronic infection before its death, left behind a legacy for other trained canines to come. CUPD Lieutenant Jeff Montesano, Sabre’s handler, said that it was difficult to adjust to life without his dog companion. “Eight years and he was with me every day,” Montesano said. “When I’d go to work, he’d see me getting dressed and … get my uniform on, and he’d run and get next to the door to wait for me. He knew he was going to work.”
Sabre, a black Labrador Retriever, was rescued when he was 18 months old from the Tompkins County SPCA. Trained to detect explosives, Sabre was always active and ready to work, according to Montesano. “He had a lot of energy, which in our world, we call a play drive. That’s what we need for this kind of work — a dog with lots of play drive, and he had it. He wanted to work. He needed a job,” he said.
Sabre served the CUPD for eight years, keeping venues safe for Cornell students as well as dignitaries such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and celebrities like Gwen Stefani and the Black Eyed Peas.
During his career, Sabre sniffed out and searched around many large venues in the area, including the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport and local schools. "We were one of the only resources [with an explosive-detecting canine] around for a long time,” Montesano said. Montesano said that he had developed a special bond with Sabre, a bond he said was critical to their teamwork. “It’s a bond. It’s a trust bond, really. And you just learn your dog’s behaviors from being with them all the time,” he said. More than just a bomb-sniffing dog, the friendly Sabre was also the mascot for Cornell police.
“Sabre was a great ambassador for us. He was great for community policing. Everybody likes to pet a dog … and he was just so happy-go-lucky that he made friends with everybody,” Montesano said.
Reggie, a rescued four-year-old Labrador, is now filling Sabre’s shoes." Reggie's] doing real fine. He’s also very friendly … [He’s] your typical lab. He likes to bark a little more than Sabre did,” Montesano said.
Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, said she was saddened by the news of Sabre’s death.
It was a very poignant moment when [Sabre] retired and Reggie was commissioned. I will admit, when they removed
his collar (his badge) and gave it to Reggie, there were tears in my eyes. He had served admirably in his career,” Murphy wrote in an email. Murphy said that both Sabre and Montesano did pioneering work for Cornell. “We were fortunate to have [Sabre] on staff,” she wrote.
A memorial will be held for Sabre in February, according to CUPD.
“It’ll be a tough day here,” Montesano said. “He was pretty special to us. He was the first canine we ever had and he’s laid the path for years to come, I hope. He was good.” submitted by Frank Brunetti - NJ & Jim Cortina, Dir. CPWDA
Two-legged officers often enjoy great longevity in their careers. The canine officer’s tour of duty, while much shorter, is no less honorable. Work takes its toll more quickly on the canine half of the team, and it is a bittersweet occasion when we must separate the team in order to give the dog his well-deserved retirement.
Jeff Montesano came to Cornell Police in January of 1999. A resident of Freeville, he is a ’97 graduate of the Otsego County Law Enforcement Academy. He began the Canine Explosive Detection Team with Sabre in July of 2001 and was promoted to Sergeant in September of 2002.
Since July of 2001, Sabre and Jeff have participated in countless dignitary protection details, assisted other agencies in call-outs for explosive detection, and responded to numerous suspicious package complaints. Sabre’s skills earned him a special place among county law enforcement. He was often asked to assist in training other dogs, and could always be counted on to accurately demonstrate his skills in the toughest playing fields.
While we will miss Sabre’s presence in our offices, we know he will retire happy and healthy in the care of his handler, Sergeant Montesano. We will also continue to reap the benefits of Lt. Montesano’s skills through his participation in training new canines and handlers. It is with great pride, and some sadness, that Cornell Police decommissioned Sabre in April of 2008 and allowed him to move gracefully into a more relaxed status.