SALEM — Loreen Pantaleone stood in front of a couple dozen people at the police station Monday morning, about to unveil a painting she created of the last member of the department to leave its ranks by death.
She motioned behind her to the deceased's partner, Patrolman John Bedard, and said, "He's breathing very heavy right now." A few quiet laughs echoed in the room as Pantaleone unveiled her portrait of Thor, a member of the police K9 unit whose watch in Salem ended Jan. 16, 2017 when he was found unresponsive in his kennel.
As the audience applauded, Bedard stood motionless, looking over the portrait. After a few seconds, he started to smile. More time passed, and the smile gave way to a nod of support.
Bedard — and through replica copies, the Salem Police Department headquarters and Moose Lodge — received a portrait of Thor through a donation from the K9 Hero Portrait Project. The painting was paid for by officers and supporters throughout the department. A memorial stone will also be placed outside the department's headquarters on Margin Street, engraved with Thor's name and end-of-watch date.
Bedard, who now works with another dog, Echo, described the impact of Thor's sudden death.
"It was lonely, very lonely, just terrible," Bedard said. "There was always going to be that missing thing. Every time I look at my new dog, I think of my old dog."
The painting helps bring closure, he said, by bringing a piece of Thor home.
"I'm very honored to have the dog, the picture," he said, "everything."
Thor was brought to the Salem Police Department after a crowdfunding campaign in 2012 raised money to buy and train three dogs: Thor, Axle and Turbo. They were the first K9s in Salem in 30 years, according Police Chief Mary Butler.
The crowdfunding campaign was led by the Mack Park Association's Rosemary O'Connor.
"She spearheaded this campaign, and they were able to raise funds to purchase, to train, to equip and maintain the K9s for a pretty long time," Butler said. "And it's been a great ongoing relationship that we truly enjoy."
Sgt. Kathleen Makros and Detective Charlene Sano, who is married to Bedard, led the effort to get a portrait of Thor, which was funded by donations from officers throughout the department.
Pantaleone, who drove from Pennsylvania to present the painting in person, kept a low profile at the event, initially sitting in the back of the room and not coming out front until asked to do so to accept a gift.
"I didn't want to be recognized for this," she said after the ceremony. "I don't know (Bedard); he doesn't know me. But if he looks at it and goes, 'That's Thor,' then it's worth it."