Human Odor, Not Gunpowder, Led To .380

Cops chased the alleged gun traffickers and caught up with them on the Farmington Canal Trail. But a handgun was still missing somewhere out in the dark. It was time to call in a top crime-fighter on four legs.

Bitang had been on the beat for less than a year. But it took him just a moment to sniff out the .380 nestled in a pitch-black embankment. It could have taken a team of two-legged colleagues hours to find it that night.

Some police dogs, like the two “explosives” black labs on New Haven’s force, are trained to sniff for gunpowder. Others, like the department’s two yellow labs, learn to sniff for narcotics.

Bitang is one of three rookies, all “dual purpose” German Shepherds, that have begun working regular patrol with human cops. These dogs don’t sniff for gunpowder. They don’t specialize; they do assignments ranging from missing-persons to building-searches to narcotics to, more and more these days, guns.

When it came time to find the handgun after the canal trail chase, Bitang sniffed for human odors, not gunpowder. That’s how he discovered the .380.

The mood had been tense: The traffickers had allegedly tried to run over officers. They were armed. They fled before cops caught them. But a celebration broke out as Bitang’s proud companion, Officer Renee Forte, rewarded the Shepherd by throwing him his hollowed-out lacrosse ball on a rope, then playing tug-of-war. The other cops out on the trail that night joined in.

“I was a very proud mom,” recalled Forte. She and Bitang spend the entire evening shift together, and Bitang lives at Forte’s home.

Fans of New Haven’s three new patrol dogs (Bitang, Boris and Xander)  will celebrate, as well, from 6:30 to 8:30 Tuesday evening at Christopher Martin’s Restaurant at 860 State St. They’re holding a $40-per-person fundraiser for the police K-9 unit, which neighbors from East Rock’s Sohu area helped raise money to revive. Organizers hope this year to raise money for yearly maintenance of the dogs, training equipment, and ultimately a fourth patrol pooch. (For info call 203-623-0857 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).)

Paul Bass PhotoThe celebratory lacrosse-ball tug-of-war game repeated itself three times within a week as Bitang went on a gun-sniffing tear. As word has gotten around that the dual-purpose dogs can find weapons, officers on the trail of illegal guns have started calling for Bitang’s help more often.

Two days before the Munson Street chase, Forte and Bitang got a call at close to 7 p.m. from Officer Brian Pazsak. Pazsak had just chased a group of kids in Newhallville from Lilac Street to Shepherd. Pazsak found one of the kids in a house on Shepard. The kid had had a gun before police caught him. Now he didn’t. Forte and Bitang arrived in the bedroom where the suspect was caught. Bitang went straight to a boot on the floor. A .357 revolver was inside.

Forte and Bitang were close by Lilac Street a week later around 10 p.m. when fellow officers called for help again. They’d been poking around the basement of a house on the trail of gun-toting men. They didn’t find anyone in the basement. But the house’s residents were concerned. The Bilco doors to the basement had been left open. They were usually closed. Bitang headed right away to a dresser in the basement. Inside was a Hi-Point 45. Someone had been stashing it there.

“Smarter Than Humans”

On March 22, the night of the Munson Street chase, Forte didn’t realize at first that Bitang had found the .380 handgun.

Bitang had set off north up the trail from Munson Street and stopped right away at a crevice where a fence met an embankment. Forte figured he was following the scent of the fleeing alleged traffickers. “This must be where they jumped over the fence,” she figured.

So she brought him back to the spot where the chase began. They worked up the trail. When Bitang stopped as soon as they arrived again at the spot by the embankment.

Bitang is trained to lie down beside a found object. (He doesn’t do explosives.) In this case, “he kind of stood and pointed his head” toward the crevice, Forte recalled. “I said, ‘Let me look.’” Sure enough, the .380 was there.

Bitang was excited. “The game of finding evidence is one of his favorite to play. He knows if he lays down on it, he gets his ball,” Forte said. She was beaming, she said. “It’s like your kid hitting the home run and in the playoff and wins the game.”

“Most of the time,” Forte noted, the canines “are smarter than the humans.”

Forte (pronounced “forty”), who’s 31 and has been a New Haven officer since 2002, developed a bond with Bitang after winning an internal competition to become one of the department’s three new canine-patrol officers last year. Growing up in New Haven, Forte early one knew two facts about herself: She wanted to become a cop. And she loved dogs. Her family always had German Shepherds.

Bitang arrived from Czech Republic, where he had received basic tracking, obedience, and “suspect apprehension” training. He and Forte then underwent further training. The pair hit the streets last April. Meanwhile, Bitang settled into his own doggie bed at Forte’s home, sharing her attention there with her two other pets, a Vizsla and a chocolate Lab.

On the night shift, Bitang has Forte all to himself. The pooch’s playfulness at home turns to a no-nonsense frame of mind—at least until the lacrosse ball comes out.

“He looks like a big scary guy,” Forte said. “But he’s like a big teddy bear.”

The typical police dog lasts nine to ten years on the beat, Forte said. A dog’s handler decides when a dog needs to retire because of, say, arthritis brought on by hip displasia or just wearing out. After that, the dog remains in the handler’s care the rest of his life. For some retired police dogs, no longer on a mission, that end comes swiftly. Watching Forte with 4-year-old Bitang, one gets the sense that the pooch may have reason to enjoy his golden years. Meanwhile he should have plenty of work to do in New Haven’s neighborhoods.

Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:

Shafiq Abdussabur
Lloyd Barrett
Maneet Bhagtana
Paul Bicki
Scott Branfuhr
Dennis Burgh
Sydney Collier
David Coppola
Roy Davis
Joe Dease
Milton DeJesus
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
Bertram Etienne
Paul Finch
Jeffrey Fletcher
Renee Forte
Marco Francia
William Gargone
William Gargone & Mike Torre
Derek Gartner
Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
Dan Hartnett
Ray Hassett
Robert Hayden
Robin Higgins
Ronnell Higgins
William Hurley & Eddie Morrone
Racheal Inconiglios
Paul Kenney
Hilda Kilpatrick
Peter Krause
Peter Krause (2)
Amanda Leyda
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Juan Monzon
Chris Perrone
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
Luis & David Rivera
Luis Rivera (2)
Salvador Rodriguez
Brett Runlett
David Runlett
Marcus Tavares
Martin Tchakirides
Stephan Torquati
Gene Trotman Jr.
Kelly Turner
Lars Vallin (& Xander)
John Velleca
Holly Wasilewski
Alan Wenk
Michael Wuchek

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posted by: Mikey C. on April 25, 2011  12:45pm

Officers Forte and Bitang ROCK!  Its awesome to see hard-working officers in the news after the recent negative news surrounding the recent police politics.

I bet people will think twice about running when Officer Bitang is after them!  Keep up the great work.

posted by: Fairhaven Dave on April 25, 2011  12:57pm

Good dog. 

Police Officers:  This might be a stupid tangent, but can someone explain to me why it seems a lot of hoodlums in this town carry .380 pistols?  Are they more available than actual man stopping calibers ?  Why would a killer use a temperamental $500 pistol that requires four or five rounds to drop a 200lb man AND keep the evidence around.  Logic says you can do the same job with one shot from a $100 rifle far far away, drop it in a river when the job is done, and never get caught. 

I guess if you are too stupid to avoid shooting at each other, you likely are not smart enough to do it in a way that makes sense either, eh?

posted by: robn on April 25, 2011  1:08pm


It amazing that in the age of all sorts of scientific methodology like DNA matching, one of the best tools we have is the fabulous schnoz on this beautiful animal.

posted by: MrHappy on April 25, 2011  4:57pm

New Haven Police K-9’s ROCK!

posted by: job well done! on April 25, 2011  6:02pm

Beautiful, just beautiful…..

posted by: Ex-NHPD on April 25, 2011  6:25pm

The success of the revitalized K-9 program rises and falls on the human half of the teams.  NHPD has made many fine choices in selecting the officers assigned to the program, for both uniform and non-uniform work.

Renee and Bitang, along with the other members of the K-9 units have certainly proved that several NHPD Chiefs were way off base in their decisions to not resurrect the unit, after it was disbanded by Pastore.

Keep up the great work Renee and Bitang.

posted by: Lisa on April 25, 2011  9:31pm

These stories remind us of why we should support the K-9 unit.  Hope to see people at Christopher Martins tomorrow night!

posted by: Elaine Braffman on April 25, 2011  9:41pm

Congrats Officer Bitang and Forte! Wonderful partners and you make New Haven proud…so glad the K-9s are back and hopefully the K-9 force will grow. Best wishes to both of you and thank you for all your hard work.

posted by: Shirley on April 27, 2011  12:27pm

Excellent work Officer Bitang and Forte. New Haven is a safer place with Bitang on patrol. Keep up the outstanding work and stay safe yourselves!