Sgt. Brian Smith cannot recall how many track missions he went out on with his K-9 partner, Youno. He actually paused and tried to come up with it, but the number was too vast and the cases too varied.

“The missing kids, the Alzheimer’s patients, the autistic children who wandered away,” Smith said. “We did probably thousands of tracks together. And, thank God, we always brought those people home.”

Youno, officially on police duty for eight years, had to be put down two weeks ago due to problems associated with aging. The German shepherd was one of the area’s longest-serving tracking dogs, having been on the job between 2001 and 2009.

“He was such a great tracker,” said Smith, of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department.

It wasn’t just the missing people. Along with his handler, Youno was often called to sniff out illegal drugs. He was called when a criminal suspect ran off into the woods or when somebody just wouldn’t cooperate with human cops.

“It didn’t matter what I asked him to do, he’d do it,” Smith said. “If I asked Youno to go after a guy with a knife, he did it. We were a team. If things turned nasty, he was right there for me. He knew I had his back and he always had mine.”

Youno and Smith went to school together, learning how to track people and to sniff out drugs. Because the dog was assigned to work both patrol and narcotics detection, that meant training for 16 hours each month, instead of the standard eight. Training was nonstop. But for the Sheriff’s Department and other agencies, that meant heaping bags of dope taken off suspects and thousands of dollars in recovered money.

Youno helped get a lot of bad guys off the street and that’s a full-time job.

“These dogs, they’re at work pretty much every day,” Smith said.

And yet, it wasn’t all cops and robbers. As frequently as they fought crime and helped bring wayward people to safety, Smith and Youno also educated, and even entertained a bit.

“We did so many demonstrations,” Smith said. “At schools, community events … We loved to do demonstrations. That was our chance to let people know what it is that we did.”

Youno lived with Smith and his wife and children. He was part of the family.

But recently, Youno started to show the effects of his 12 years. His health was failing. His legs occasionally gave out. These were the effects of a long life and an extremely active one.

“These dogs do so much,” Smith said. “It wears them out.”

So, Smith had to make the difficult decision to put Youno down. That meant saying goodbye to a partner, a friend and a part of his family for more than a decade.

“It’s hard,” Smith said. “He was such a good partner. But it was the right thing to do, absolutely.”

Smith is still on the job, of course, and with no K-9 sidekick. But that doesn’t mean he has to deal with humans only for the rest of his career. Not even close.

For the time being, Smith is serving as an assistant K-9 trainer with the Maine State Police, passing along the things he learned over the years with Youno at his side.

Dogs will continue to be a large part of Smith’s life and career.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s the best.”

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