Sometimes the right animal comes into a person's life at just the right time.
For former Bowie County Sheriff's Deputy Bobby Dupree, that animal was a black German shepherd named Brenna.
"She was more than just a dog — she was my partner," he said. "I was in a bad place, and working with her really helped me out."
The sheriff's office is now mourning the loss of Brenna, who died this week apparently after having a stroke. But the department also wants to share her accomplishments as a highly trained contraband dog.
She was trained to sniff out not only drugs but tobacco and cellphones and was a valuable asset to the sheriff's office in her four years of service, Sheriff James Prince said.
"We know every jail has drugs and other illegal contraband, and we want to aggressively fight it. We kept it quiet that we had her, because we didn't want to tip the criminals off that we were using her to find contraband," Prince said.
He said it's important to find cellphones in jails because they can be used for planning escapes or obtaining drugs. Brenna once alerted on a potted plant, and a cellphone was found buried a foot deep in the plant's soil.
Brenna was donated to the sheriff's office about four years ago by dog breeder Joanne Reitz of Kaufman, Texas.
"She said she had a female German shepherd with a working drive and she wanted her to have a working life," Prince said.
Reitz described Brenna on her Website as "one of our best, active working dogs. Inmates and suspects do not like to see this lady show up in their areas. She has an excellent reputation at making numerous finds," Reitz said.
Prince was thrilled to have the dog and had highly esteemed dog trainer Billy Smith Sr. conduct her training.
Smith founded the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association, a professional nonprofit organization dedicated to the training of scent detector dogs for law enforcement and private industry.
As soon as it was time to find a handler for Brenna, Prince knew exactly who he wanted and contacted Dupree.
"Bobby is one of the best dog handlers I've ever known," Prince said.
Dupree was a K-9 handler for the sheriff's department in the 1990s. His K-9 partner Nikki was an all-purpose dog trained to find drugs and missing people. Nikki died of a heatstroke in 1999 after locating a missing toddler on a hot July day.
In February 2000, Dupree was shot three times while responding to a traffic stop on Interstate 30 near New Boston, Texas.
Dupree stopped the vehicle with the intention of warning the driver merely to slow down. As he exited his car, the driver pulled a weapon and opened fire. Although seriously injured, Dupree was able to pull himself to safety and radio for help. After apprehending the suspect, Vince Naseem, the authorities learned that earlier in the day Naseem had called his estranged wife and vowed to kill her. When pulled over by Dupree, the suspect believed he was going to be arrested for threatening his wife.
Naseem was later convicted of shooting Dupree and remains in prison.
Dupree's recovery was long and difficult, and he did not know if he would ever work in law enforcement again.
"I was in my bad place, sitting on the pity pot," he said.
But that changed when he received the opportunity to work with Brenna. He became her handler, a part-time position, and went to work searching the Bi-State jail and Bowie County jail annex for hidden contraband.
"She got me over a lot of hurdles," he said.
Prince said he will start looking for another contraband dog when Dupree is ready for a new partner.
But that dog will have some big paw prints to fill.
"Brenna was a great dog. She was like a member of my family," Dupree said.