Speech from Joe Montoro at K-9 ceremony

Joseph V. Montoro, Jr., was presented an appreciation plaque this morning for his generous contribution to the sheriff’s K-9 memorial — honoring K-9 officers and their handlers for their bravery and courage in the face of the most dangerous of law enforcement situations.

Montoro introduced himself to Historic City News Editor Michael Gold today before his presentation and explained that he was the donor of K-9 “Bravo”, the Sheriff’s Office first bomb detection dog.

Montoro’s love for the animals and the lifesaving role they are trained to perform was evident as he delivered his remarks to the dozens of deputies, police officers and their K-9 partners.

“I was only able to get through it 3 times at home without getting a little choked up,” Montoro admitted. “When I saw all the K-9’s that were present, I knew I wasn’t going to make it all the way through without a lump in my throat.”

He generously furnished us with a copy of his speech for those who could not make the event today.

Distinguished guests, members of law enforcement, my dear daughter Gabrielle, ladies and gentleman, and last but not least, St Johns County K9’s that are gone but not forgotten.

I discovered St Augustine back in 1978, while attending Florida State University where I met a lifelong friend and tennis partner, Mr. John Fraser of the Fountain of Youth. I’d come back with John now and then, stay with his family…that treated me like family… and got to enjoy this historic and beautiful town. Years later, in 1995, I brought my family here from New Jersey, (home of the Boss, Bruce Springsteen), and we became part of this community.

Now I grew up with German Shepherds and once you’ve had one, you’re part of the fan club. Since my business took me out of town from time to time, I wanted a protector for my family. So my search began for the dog that was to become Rio. Named after the John Wayne movie, Rio Bravo. Rio was a German German Shepherd that came from a great blood line of working dogs & was incredibly smart. We were so impressed that we wanted to keep his blood line going and breed him.

I had heard about a St Johns County Deputy named Joey Romer, that was going to the schools and educating kids, with his police K9’s, Trigger & Justice. The year before a terrible incident happened, the shootings at Columbine High School. With a young daughter in grade school, I felt chills thinking this could happen to us. So my next thought was that a K9 working in this county just might prevent such a tragedy.

We contacted Deputy Romer, told him we’d like to donate our pick of the litter German Shepherd puppy, for him to use in police work, and arranged a time for him to come over & check out the dad. That was the first time he met Rio and he wanted to see what kind of instincts he had.

Rio had never done tracking work before but he loved to play ball, and we kept telling Joey he’s really smart. Rio stayed inside and Joey went into the yard to hide his ball. He came back and we let Rio out, told him to find his ball, and his nose hit the ground and off he went. Within seconds he tracked Joey’s steps back to the ball, Joey’s jaw dropped wide open, then smiled and said, yes I’d love to have one of his puppies!

When the litter came, Joey picked out his dog, and asked if he could name him Bravo, so father and son would always stay connected, and of course we said yes.

My family of course followed K9 Bravo’s career..… With hours of training from a dedicated handler, and at less than 11 months old, Bravo became the county’s first certified bomb sniffing dog. His tracking work, led to the arrest and conviction of an armed robber. He was also quite good at public relations and appeared at schools and healthcare facilities. He even wore his reindeer ears and accompanied Santa Claus & helped distribute items at the St Augustine Health and Rehabilitation Center in December 2006. Sadly, Bravo left us not long after.

When I learned the Sheriff’s Office was trying to raise funds for a statue, I couldn’t wait to get involved. I want to thank Sheriff Shoar and his staff for being so supportive of this project and welcoming my ideas.

Now you know my personal story, that of Rio – Bravo. And I know that every member that has served in the K9 Unit, has a wonderful story about their K9 partner. And that’s why we’re here today, to dedicate a memorial that will remember & recognize the outstanding achievements of the men, woman and K9’s of the St Johns County Sheriff’s Department, past present and future.

The K9 officer stands apart from all others that watch over us. In addition to being a family pet, their mission is to not only protect and serve the public, but also to lay down their life for their human handler. They are man’s best friend to the end. How fitting this statue is named “SPIRIT”, and we thank every one of you for your service.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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