Sam's Story


TOMS RIVER – He was the puppy that showed a lot of promise when Chief Michael Osborn of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department was in search of a new explosive detection dog for the department.
“He was focused and he had drive,” Osborn said.
And for most of his 13 and a half years, Sam, a Labrador-mix put those important traits to work for the residents of Ocean County and the state of New Jersey.

On July 2 Sam was laid to rest at the canine cemetery at the Ocean County Police Academy, Ocean County Park, Lakewood. The simple ceremony marked the end of a long and impressive career that ranged from the very dangerous to preparing for the visits of the social elite and political dignitaries.

A product of a broken home, at 7 months old Sam was surrendered to the Brick Animal Shelter after its owners decided to divorce. Call it karma or luck, it was about the same time Osborn was in search of a new bomb dog for the department.

“As I walked through the shelter I carried a towel with me. The young dog was fixated on it. That focus was my indication he had the qualities to be a good bomb dog,” Osborn said.
And, Osborn’s intuition was correct.

Sam started his training as an explosive detection dog in August of 1997 and graduated that December.

For the next 11 plus years, Sam participated in hundreds of explosive searches and weapons searches. He also participated in sweeps to insure the security of high profile visitors including First Lady Laura Bush, and Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, Sam spent about a month at the Holland Tunnel leading into Manhattan checking vehicles bringing supplies to Ground Zero.

“With so few explosive detection dogs available, the state Police requested our help,” Osborn said. “We spent 12 to 16 hours a day at the tunnel checking each vehicle that was bringing supplies to the Trade Center site. It was part of Sam’s job to make sure that vehicles going into that tunnel were inspected and posed no threat to the safety of the workers and the public helping to pick up the pieces after that terror attack.

“In my eyes, Sam’s work there made him a hero,” Osborn said.
Following the days after Sept. 11, Sam also participated in sweeps for potential explosives at Giants Stadium, the Meadowlands arena and Rutger’s University.

Osborn said the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department was one of the first in the state to have explosive detection dogs. Sam was the second one to become a member of the department.

“Our dogs are kept very busy,” said Sheriff William L. Polhemus. “The explosive detection dogs are professionally trained to sniff out nitrates. They sweep buildings where bomb threats have been received and provide an invaluable service to municipal police departments when searching for weapons.”
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Freeholder John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety, noted Sam’s loyalty and dedication to Ocean County.

“What some may see simply as a dog, we see as a member of the sheriff’s department that worked hard and did a good job,” Kelly said. “This Board recognizes him for a job well done.”
The Ocean County Sheriff’s Department K-9 unit is made up of 14 dogs including two retirees, along with four handlers. Three of the dogs are explosive detection dogs, three are narcotics dogs, one arson dog, a cadaver dog and four bloodhounds.

The unit handles about 600 calls a year searching for missing persons, explosives and weapons, illegal drugs, arsonists and bodies.

From the time he was adopted from the shelter, Sam led a busy yet enviable life. He spent his days training, going on searches and exercising.

In return, he received a lifetime of love and attention from Osborn, his handler, and the Osborn family.
“The work to him was fun. It was a game of fetch,” Osborn said. “For the police and the public it’s serious business.”