Explosives detection dog Wynne is a special partner within University Police

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The University Police and Public Safety office is committed to ensuring the safety of all students, faculty, staff, community members and visitors who are on campus each and every day.

A key part of that mission at Penn State is Wynne, University Police and Public Safety’s explosives detection canine, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever.

“We strive to ensure the safety of everyone visiting campus on a daily basis, whether it’s to go to class, cheer on one of our sports teams or attend a concert,” said Steve Shelow, assistant vice president of Penn State University Police and Public Safety. “Regardless of the reason for the visit, we want everyone to know how important their safety is to us. One example of that commitment is our use of a canine with explosives detection capabilities.”

With fur flying and tail wagging, Wynne emerged from his crate and took off down the hall of the Penn State Police offices often with his feet splaying out behind him on the slick tile. Upon visiting each officer and sniffing every nook and cranny, he joined his handler Lt. Matt White ready to work or play. To his probable disappointment, it was neither time to work or play as he was confined to a small office with White for an interview.

Wynne has been training and working with White since May 2007, and is Penn State’s third police canine and second trained in explosive’s detection.

Inside the office, Wynne seemed to know he was the topic of conversation. Not one to sit still, he showed off his impressive detective abilities sniffing every last inch of the room. Thankfully nothing of concern was found. When not checking things out, which he did repeatedly, he stood contentedly next to White’s seat with his tail gleefully thumping a filing cabinet. The bond between the two was impossible to deny.

For White, who has been a police officer for more than eight years, there is nothing he would rather do.

“I’ve always wanted to have a job where each day is unique,” said White. “It’s not a job where you sit in your office every day. You don’t get bored. It’s always challenging.”

White grew up with dogs and understood how people and dogs can work together to do a job. Being a canine handler was something he knew he wanted to pursue from day one.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything in this field that feels as good as when he and I are working together and in sync,” said White. “You have to work as a team and that’s one of the best things about it. We have worked some dangerous jobs together and the level of trust between us is big. We have a really strong bond.”

Wynne and Lt. White work large-scale events, the most common being football games. They have also worked high security events such as visits to Penn State’s campus by former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama, as well as the 2008 National Governor’s Conference in Philadelphia. The pair often travels throughout the state having gone as far west as Monroeville, and throughout central Pennsylvania.

“One of the unique things about bomb dogs is they can also be used for crime scene work,” said White. “The powder residue in the shell casings of a firearm is the same as some of the substances he’s trained to find. We’ve worked both homicide and suicide scenes.”

In all, Wynne is trained to detect and locate more than 20 different types of explosives. As new kinds of explosives are found in use overseas and domestically, White and Wynne can add to that number.

Working these events requires long hours for the duo, but it doesn’t seem to faze Wynne or White.

“He doesn’t want to let me down, and I don’t want to let him down,” said White. “We work hard together. Over the past six years, one of the things he’s always impressed me with is he just won’t give up. He won’t stop.”

This seems to come as no surprise as Wynne was bred to serve. He comes from a line of dogs bred to work in service or as police dogs. Wynne was too energetic to be a service dog, but that energy is what makes him perfect for life as a police canine. Wynne even has a sibling who serves as a narcotics canine with the State Police.

While White and Wynne are often quite busy with work-related obligations, Wynne enjoys keeping active in other ways. He loves walks, running and playing catch. All of these are also required parts of his day as a police canine.

“We have to get training in every day,” said White. “He doesn’t like sitting still and a big part of his day is dedicated to keeping engaged through physical activity. He enjoys going for walks and sniffing whatever he wants.”

While Wynne is still energetic and loves working, White said the average career for a police canine lasts to about age 9 or 10. Wynne will most likely retire in the next two years.

“Police canines will always want and know how to work,” explained White. “Physically they just slow down from all the wear and tear on their body.”

When that time comes, Wynne will do what he’s always done, and that means going home to be with White and his family. It’s something most handlers do because of the bond.

“I don’t want him to go anywhere else, and I don’t think he wants to go anywhere else,” said White. “He’s always looking for me.”

While another officer will take on the job of being a canine handler for Wynne’s replacement, White hopes to remain involved in the program. White is also a bomb tech and member of the University Police and Public Safety’s bomb squad.

Until then, Wynne will continue to come to work and do his job with a drive unmatched by most people. Next time you see a big yellow Lab with a goofy grin and endless energy taking his best pal for a walk, chances are its Wynne. Feel free to wave.

Last Updated September 17, 2013