VILLA PARK – Brothers look out for each other, and Bryan and Tony Hruby are no exception. Bryan has four years on his younger brother, Tony, so he did things first. He became a police officer first and he got a dog first.
A few years later, Tony also became a police officer, and he brought home a pup this past spring.
Bryan, 36, may have done things first, but Tony's reaped the benefits of having a big brother to show him the ropes. So when Tony, 32, found himself holding the leash of an 18-month-old German shepherd last May after being assigned to the K-9 officer position at the Darien Police Department, Bryan was there to help because he'd already been in the same position for six years with the Villa Park Police Department.
It isn't uncommon for multiple children in a family to pursue careers in police work, but Bryan and Tony estimate that they're the only pair of brothers and K-9 officers in the state.
"When I was in training, it was nice going in with his help to know the dogs wouldn't be perfect all the time," Tony said. "At least I have someone who's been through it and can say, 'I had the same problem.'"
Bryan, who said he'd always wanted to be a K-9 officer, has been with the Villa Park Police Department for 12 years and now works with Inoe, an 8-year-old Belgian Malinois. He received Inoe from Northern Michigan K-9, Inc., an organization that trains police dogs and their handlers. Six years later, his younger brother was at the same school for training with a German Shepherd named Niko.
Tony has served with the Darien Police Department for nine years and helped the previous K-9 officer with the old dogs. When the previous dogs died a few years ago, Tony was asked if he wanted the K-9 officer position, but he had young children at home he wasn't ready for the added responsibility.
"I had a little girl and a newborn baby," he said "As time went on, the discussion of a dog came up and I thought they could handle it."
In May, Tony went to his brother's alma mater, Northern Michigan K-9, Inc., to meet Niko and train with him. Whenever Bryan had days off work, he and Inoe would drive up to visit the school, help Tony and review their own training drills.
Before coming to work for a department, police dogs are trained to find narcotics, track missing people, perform article searches and more.
"It's a little bit of everything," Tony said. "You're trying to get to know the dog. It's more or less getting us on the same page."
Inoe's been working the streets of Villa Park for six years now, and he has such a strong connection with his handler that the two work as a seamless pair. Bryan said he doesn't often give commands anymore because his dog knows what to do.
Niko and Tony are still strengthening their partnership. As a veteran K-9 handler, Bryan is a strong resource for his brother.
"The same things that happened to me happened to him," Bryan said. "If it wasn't identical, it was similar things. I say, 'This is what I did, this is what worked for me.'"
The K-9 position is unpredictable, the brothers said. They're called frequently to neighboring departments to help track suspects, find drugs or search buildings. Bryan and Tony could be called away at a moment's notice to respond to something happening in their own towns or help in a neighboring one, and they're OK with that.
"It's absolutely my favorite part of the job," his brother said. "I'm involved in absolutely everything, to the point that I want to be involved."
Walking around town with a dog also means there's a very social side to the job. Bryan said Inoe is a local celebrity in Villa Park and they're frequently giving demonstrations at club meetings and community events. As the new dog in Darien, Niko's also made the rounds this summer.
Like his brother, Tony said the work he does as a K-9 officer is very rewarding.
"We're not always going to find the drugs, not always going to find the bad guy," Tony said. "That reward of, 'My dog did it,' this is what we've been training for. It's rewarding, probably more for me than for the dog."