A retired Penn State explosive detection dog named Wynne passed away this week after a two-year battle with degenerative myelopathy.
Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease of the spinal cord that begins with a lack of coordination in the hind limbs that progresses throughout the body.
Wynne, a yellow Labrador retriever, was an eight-year veteran of the Penn State police department and spent countless hours working alongside his handler, Lt. Matt White.
White was selected as the agency’s third-ever dog handler and began training Wynne in 2007. By the time Wynne retired in 2015, he and White had worked 64 Penn State football games and provided protection from bomb threats and other critical incidents.
“When I first met him, he was a very relaxed dog. A lot of police dogs are high energy, but he would just lay there. I never thought that it would work out in the training. He was very, very mature for a working dog,” White said.
Those 64 Penn State football games often required 10-12 hours, if not more, from the duo, and White said that Wynne’s commitment was something that stood out to him.
“He might have slowed down when he was tired, but he was always engaged. No matter how cold or rainy it got, he never gave up and kept working hard,” White said.
White, his wife, Jennifer, and his two children, Tegan and Sullivan, welcomed Wynne into their home after his retirement. Matt White said that he was originally concerned with Wynne’s transition from being a work dog to a pet. Being able to relax and interact with his family were two of his primary concerns, but the father of two said that Wynne took right to it and was able to be protective of his kids and loved to meet people and go for walks.
“I will miss his his happy energy. When it was time to go to work or go for a walk, he’d pop up with a goofy, happy look and wag his tail. It’s impossible not to smile at him when he was like that,” Jennifer White said.
“They (Tegan and Sullivan) both liked to give him big hugs since he was such a big, gentle dog. He only barked when he wanted to play more, and was so gentle that he wouldn’t stop our cats from stealing his food.”
Jennifer White also said that she appreciated Wynne’s efforts to keep her husband safe at work. Early in Matt White’s time as Wynne’s handler, he told her that if he found something suspicious, they would leave and a bomb technician would be called into the situation. Shortly after that, Matt became a bomb technician. Jennifer White said that joke became that if Wynne found something, Matt would take Wynne to safety and then go back to his duties as a bomb technician.
While that scenario is lighthearted, it also demonstrates the bond that Matt White and Wynne developed as they worked to keep themselves, and the public, safe.
“There were times of the year I spent more time with him than I did with my family. The level of trust I had with him went beyond some of the relationships that you have with people,” Matt White said.
“He was viewed as another officer. He liked people and I think he was a good ambassador for our department, too. Being his handler was probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done professionally.”
Bret Pallotto: 814-231-4648