First Responders

Cops Called When Escaped Florida Dog Takes Over Dollar General Store

June 14, 2022Noelle Wiehe
Florida dog Saint Bernard

From left: Bradenton Police Officer Kristie Affolter, Officer Chase Huddleston, and Sgt. Alexandra Emrich pose with the escaped Saint Bernard dog, Bentley, on May 31, 2022. Photo courtesy of Bradenton Police Department.

When the May 31 call went out to Bradenton Police officers, all Florida dispatchers knew was that a Dollar General employee wanted to meet with cops about a large Saint Bernard dog inside her store.

Officer Chase Huddleston arrived around 10:20 p.m. 20 minutes after the shop was supposed to close and store manager Felicitas Vandello told him the dog wandered in like a “frequent customer,” strolling the aisles.

He wasn’t really bothering anyone, but he also wouldn’t leave. And that was a big problem because Saint Bernards are very big. Bred to run Alpine rescues on the snow-covered Great St. Bernard Pass between Switzerland and Italy, they can grow to nearly 200 pounds.

The American Kennel Club lauds the beloved breed as “gentle giants,” playfully charming and affectionate with children. But the AKC also warns they’re “very powerful,” “extraordinarily muscular,” “imposing,” and “massive.”

Dollar General
A Saint Bernard dog roams the aisles of the Dollar General store on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton, Florida, May 31, 2022. Still via Bradenton Police Department body camera footage.

Footage from a camera mounted on Huddleston’s body armor and sent to Coffee or Die Magazine showed the cop filing past diapers and shampoo to the back of the store, muttering, “I hope he doesn’t bite me.” 

Huddleston neared the cases of bottled water and the metal racks Dollar General uses for restocking. There’s an audible gasp on the tape, and then the officer said, “Hi, pup!”

“He’s a big, beautiful boy!” added Vandello.

But this big and beautiful boy didn’t have a dog collar. Huddleston looked at the slobbering behemoth and said, “What’s up?” Then he started to lead the tail wagger out of the store with some friendly encouragement, saying, “Come on! Let’s go!”

Disobeying the officer’s lawful commands, the dog detoured to a break room before wandering behind the checkout counter, where Dollar General employees wanted to count the till so they could go home.

Dollar General
Dollar General employees wanted to count the day’s cash and go home on May 31, 2022, in Bradenton, Florida. But a Saint Bernard had other ideas. Still via Bradenton Police Department body camera footage.

A glance at the leg restraints Huddleston had brought to use as a makeshift leash told him they wouldn’t work. So the cop radioed another officer, Sgt. Alexandra Emrich, for Saint Bernard backup.

Emrich arrived and so did Officer Kristie Affolter, who fashioned a lead large enough to loop around the dog’s neck. She led the pooch down the aisles and out into the parking lot.

And that’s where the three cops were met by a shirtless Florida man in a car. He was pulling up while the police were getting ready to leave with their suspected stray. Identified by authorities as Jack Smith, the man told the cops the dog was his and the furry fella’s name was “Bentley.”

And Smith had a tattoo of the canine on one of his buns to prove it.

“We didn’t need to see that!” Bradenton Police Department spokesperson Meredith Frameli told Coffee or Die.

In lieu of positive identification by buttock ink, the officers asked Smith to show them digital photos he kept of Bentley on his cell phone.

Smith explained that Bentley had broken through an outdoor gate and the man had driven around “for a while” looking for him. The police released Bentley to his recognizance.

Smith prodded the pooch into the back seat of the car. The officers presented Smith with a metal bowl they’d used to feed the dog, and the man drove away.

The entire case was solved in 11 minutes.

Frameli told Coffee or Die that Smith pledged to fix the gate. 

Read Next: Watch Courtney Bayles, the Critter Cop Who Wrestles Cantankerous Carolina Gators

Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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