TAMPA — The honorees at the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office award ceremony stepped onto the stage Tuesday one by one, accepting their certificates quietly.
With one exception.
"Our next recipient demands to be heard," said Col. Jim Previtera, who emceed the event. The audience released a collective chuckle.
Bullit, a 60-pound Dutch shepherd, bellowed a deep bark. The 2-year-old dog and Master Deputy Chris Grecco were given lifesaving awards for rescuing a woman in February who had wandered into woods in eastern Hillsborough County after overdosing on prescription drugs.
"He's adapted to tracking very well," Grecco said of Bullit, a German shepherd and Belgian Malinois mix. "He has a knack for it."
The woman was missing for an hour when Bullit and Grecco arrived at the wooded area, he said. In 30 minutes, she would be in a coma. In an hour, she would be dead.
After a more than half-hour hunt through heavy woods, Bullit sniffed the victim out. She was lying in the waist-high weeds of an orange grove and having seizures.
She spent nine days in critical condition, but survived, Grecco said.
Capt. Mary Tully, who helped coordinate the award ceremony, said honorees are nominated by co-workers and selected by a committee. Bullit is not the first dog to be honored, but he is the first to have the lifesaving award affixed to the leather badge that hangs from his collar.
"Our canines are considered regular deputies," Tully said.
An audience of about 75 gathered to celebrate Bullit, Grecco and the scores of other officers and civilians who were acknowledged for service to the public.
Among them were a team of officers who endured gunfire while pursuing a homicide suspect, a radio host who got help to a depressed caller, and a crossing guard who is retiring after 35 years with the county.