For the past 35 years, when help was needed to find victims of homicides or suicides, or homes or schools had to be swept for drugs, Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Rinfrette and one of his K-9 dogs have been called.
After years of helping with all types of crime scenes and drug sweeps in the Twin Tiers, Rinfrette is thinking of retiring. But until that happens, he plans to keep up with requests for help from him and his K-9 dogs, Hammer, a German shepherd that serves as dual purpose bomb dog, and Little Gibbs, a Labrador retriever, a single-purpose narcotics dog.
Rinfrette, who lives in Limestone, started out in law enforcement in 1976 as a police officer in the town of Carrollton. He started his K-9 unit in the early 1980s and later signed on with the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was actually the first full-time patrol (deputy) who had a dog” to search for explosives, he said, recalling his first dog was named Brutus.
“I’ve had five German shepherds, four Labrador retrievers and a Belgian malinois” over the years, Rinfrette said. In addition to serving as a regular K-9 trainer, he is also a certified official with the National Narcotics Detector Dog Association, based in Texas.
As for bomb searches, he and his dogs have done plenty.
“I’ve done bomb searches for the president of the United States (during Bill Clinton’s visit), and I’m real active with searches at Alfred University, the University at Buffalo, St. Bonaventure and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford (Pa.),” Rinfrette said. In addition, he routinely helps the McKean County Sheriff’s Department in Smethport, Pa.
One of the more notable incidents of his career occurred when he went to New York City with a cadaver dog for a week to help with the recovery of victims following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Rinfrette may have continued on this track for many more years, but after 20 years as a full-time deputy, he was injured in an on-duty accident in 2003 that killed his K-9 partner, Bryson.
While Rinfrette has been serving as a part-time deputy since 2005, the calls for K-9 assistance have more than doubled. He and his dogs are also called to give presentations at area libraries, organizations and campuses.
“I’ve had almost 250 calls a year since I went part-time,” he said.
Those who commented on Rinfrette’s help to area departments include Cattaraugus County Sheriff Timothy Whitcomb.
“I have personally worked with Bob for 28 years now and his name in the law enforcement world regarding the K-9 field is unmatched,” Whitcomb said. “His dedication and conviction to serving the public as a deputy sheriff for Cattaraugus County, and specializing his passion for training and working with police dogs, is a true legacy.”
Whitcomb touched on an example of Rinfrette’s “success stories,” such as helping discover where a homicide victim was buried in Erie County a number of years ago.
“Good people make good cops, great people make great cops — Bob is great at both,” Whitcomb said. “It has been a true an honor to work with him in my career and all of the constituents of Cattaraugus County have been blessed because Bob answered his call to serve.”
McKean County Sheriff Dan Woods said he, too, believes Rinfrette is a huge asset to law enforcement.
“He and his dog, along with other dogs, have assisted by searching the jail for contraband,” Wood said. “That was a huge help in maintaining the safety and security of the McKean County Jail.”
Pitt-Bradford Police Chief Richard L. Harsen said Rinfrette has offered K-9 services to the university for several years for the sole purpose of ensuring the safety of the students, faculty and staff.
“On more than one occasion, I’ve heard Dep. Rinfrette refer to his law enforcement colleagues as family,” Harsen said, noting Rinfrette has extended his services to outside departments, schools and universities when they may not have had this option.
Additionally important has been Rinfrette’s dog’s ability to detect numerous odors which provides a valuable tool that can be utilized inside and outside buildings, Harsen said.
“Dep. Rinfrette has trained his dog, Hammer, to detect various chemicals, low explosives and high explosives,” Harsen said. “After nine years as a team they continue to perform these duties at the highest level.”
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, OTHKate)