VASSALBORO, Maine — It's always important to recognize the work our law enforcement officials do to keep us safe.
But, on Friday, it was also about recognizing the dogs that do the same.
A graduation ceremony was held Friday morning at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro for nine of the state's newest K9 teams.
For the last 14 weeks, the officers trained with their canines both in classroom and field settings to prepare for their new line of duty. The dogs are trained in obedience, protection, and searches, along with tracking, restraining criminals, and locating missing people or evidence.
Buxton Police Chief Troy Cline said the department is thrilled to finally have a K9 team on its staff for the first time.
"Stuka is trained in tracking not just bad people ... but he's also trained to track people that are lost in the woods, he's also trained to find articles, so if there's a piece of evidence that's missing, Stuka will be able to find that evidence as long as the rest of the department does not contaminate that area until Heath gets there with his partner," Cline said.
Buxton Police Officer Heath Mains is paired up with K9 Stuka. Now that they've graduated, the two are ready to hit the streets.
"He's young, he's still a puppy, he's energetic, he really, really likes the work," Mains said.
The nine teams that graduated Friday will report to six different agencies across the state, including Buxton PD, Bucksport PD, Waterville PD, Maine State Police, and the Somerset and York County Sherriff's Offices.
Mains said the department saw that there was a need for it in their community, so they applied for a grant which they received from the Stanton Foundation, making this all possible.
"It cost the town of Buxton nothing for this dog. The Stanton Foundation paid for the purchase of the dog and paid for the training," Cline said.
Mains said the last three months were challenging in many ways.
"It was probably the hardest training in my law enforcement career ... Now I'm relying on a dog, and I've got to communicate to that dog and hopefully he understands what I'm communicating to him," Mains said. "And there's days, just like people, where they just don't wanna do it."
Mains wife, Allison, and daughter, Emma, couldn't be more proud. Allison said she's thankful K9 Stuka won't only protect the Buxton community, but also her husband.
"I know that this dog is going to do well to keep my husband safe and my husband will do the same for the dog," Allison said.
"He's part of our team now, so he's not just a dog to us, he's a police officer," Cline said.