The Kent State University Police Services has had its K-9 unit for eight years now, and the dogs are not drug dogs, they are explosive detection dogs.

“Our primary work, however, is in providing what we call pre-sweeps of venues for special events,” Miguel Witt, an officer at the Kent State University Police Services, said in an email. 

Coco, the department’s first K-9 dog, is a 10-year-old German Shepherd and has been with the department since 2013. Dexter is an eight-year-old Belgian Malinois and has been with police services since 2014. 

“The dogs sweep all home football and basketball games, commencement ceremonies and any other large special events being held on campus,” Witt wrote in an email.

Assistant Chief of Police Bill Buckbee said they used to have to call in a bomb team if there was ever a bomb threat. The K-9s are able to locate bombs, along with weapons, and tell the officers instantly.

Police1.jpg

Officer Anne Spahr, the Explosion Detective K9 Handler for Kent State Police, poses outside of Stockdale Hall with her K9, Coco.

The police department chose to use explosive detection dogs because it was a more “pressing and life-saving matter” Buckbee said.    

Officer Anne Spahr is the handler for Coco and Officer Witt is Dexter’s. The dogs come from working kennels overseas where they are imprinted for different overwork and training. These kennels are for training work dogs and preparing them before they go through training with their handler.  

They (the kennels) kind of lay the basis and lay the groundwork, but then you go to the K-9 academy with a dog and really hone in on their skills and fine-tune it and train them for what you want them to learn,” Spahr said.

Both Spahr and Witt had to attend six weeks at the K-9 academy with their K-9s to fine-tune the dogs’ skills. 

Officer Spahr was instrumental in bringing the dogs to Kent State University Police Services.     

Spahr said her main aspiration as a police officer was to be a K-9 handler. She thought about leaving the department at one point because there was not a K-9 program, but she loved the people she worked with and the department she worked for.

Spahr recalled bothering Chief Dean Tondiglia many times, who was the assistant chief at the time, about getting a K-9 unit. It was not until a snowstorm caused a slow day in the office that the possibility of a K-9 unit arose.

Officer Spahr decided to leave a photocopied picture of her in a cruiser with a German Shepherd in the back seat on the assistant chief’s desk. The assistant chief found the picture in the morning and asked to see Spahr in his office.

She thought she was in trouble but said Chief Tondiglia gave her the go-ahead on researching a K-9 program. Spahr said she put together a proposal package for the K-9 unit and the chief took it to be reviewed.

“They came back to me and said it was approved and you should go get a dog, so I did,” Spahr said.

She got Coco and a year later the department acquired its second dog, Dexter, through a grant from Homeland Security. This is when Officer Witt and Dexter officially joined Kent State University Police Services.

Officer Witt and Dex

Photo Credit: David Sands Photography, courtesy of Officer Miguel Witt 

The two officers said they spend more time with their K-9s than they do with anyone else, and they’re not just bomb dogs, they’re family.

“Not only is he with me at work, but I also get to take him home,” Witt wrote in an email. “So, we are together there as well. Plus, there is the added bonus that Dex is a part of our larger family unit. So, while he is primarily a working K9, he also gets to be a pet.” 

Liam Morrison is a reporter. Contact him at lmorri34@kent.edu.

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