BELFAST — Residents have become accustomed to seeing K-9 Dex and his law enforcement handler, Travis Spencer, since the dog came to  Belfast Police Department in 2017. The duo recently transferred to Waldo County Sheriff’s Office — Spencer in November and Dex in December.

The pair have performed demonstrations at local school events and been involved in investigations for the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office around the city and county.

When Spencer applied for a deputy position with the Sheriff’s Office several weeks ago, he discussed transferring with his four-legged partner, he told The Republican Journal. The Sheriff’s Office had recently retired its last police dog, Frankie, and still had a vehicle equipped for a K-9 officer, according to Sheriff Jeff Trafton.

The Sheriff’s Office was able to acquire Dex from the Police Department for $24,500 after City Council approved the transfer Dec. 7. Dex, a Dutch-German Shepherd mix, has been working in the Belfast department for about five years and is expected to work in law enforcement for up to five more years.

Dex, a K-9 officer recently acquired by Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, poses for a photo Dec. 17 inside his handler’s cruiser. Photo by Kendra Caruso

Trafton got to know Spencer as police chief several years ago in Belfast, when Spencer was in high school working as a parking enforcement officer for the department, the sheriff said. Spencer works well with the public and has a positive personality, he added.

“He’s the exact, exactly the kind of law enforcement officer that we’re looking for here at the Sheriff’s Office, because I don’t do well with people that are cocky or people that are not compassionate, and Travis is compassionate,” he said. “He loves people and he’s a great guy.”

Spencer grew up in Belfast and coached wrestling at the high school, which helped him establish a connection with the community as an officer, he said. He uses compassion and listening skills in interacting with the public on the job.

“I found that just by doing the little stuff, people remember that, and the more people who remember you, the more people that will want to talk to you,” he said. “And I like that.”

Dex has helped him build a connection with the community also. He has always had an interest in dogs and grew up around them. He became interested in working with a dog when he went on a ride with Detective Sgt. Merl Reed and his K-9.

After that, Spencer worked with former Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden to become a trained K-9 officer and in 2017,  1 1/2-year-old Dex came to the Belfast department.

Dex is more than just his partner; he is a member of the family, Spencer said. Knowing that Dex is with him on the job gives Spencer confidence. “With Dex, I know 100% of the time he’s got my back and if I ever need him, he’s there,” he said.

They may not be able to communicate verbally, but they can read one another’s body language, he said. Dex is trained to track people using articles of clothing and to aid in multiple types of drug searches. He is also bite-trained, but has bitten only one person in an apprehension incident. That person had no serious injuries from the bite, Spencer said. But apprehension is only a small part of what Dex is used for.

“We don’t want the K-9s to bite the face or anywhere where it can really cause — like the neck or face — we try not to do that. The best possible place is the large body groups, such as the arm or the back of the leg,” he said.

Spencer said he has learned a lot from the community he grew up in and continues to learn about how to be a good person and conduct himself. He wants the Belfast community to know that he and Dex are still around and will be there when they are needed. He also appreciates the Sheriff’s Office for the support it has given him.

“So I’d like to thank the community of Belfast. Without them I wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” he said. “And I would like to thank the administration here at the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office. Without Sheriff Trafton, Deputy Chief Trundy and Lt. Curtis, there’s no way that this could happen for me, and they have no idea how much I appreciate that. And to the community of Waldo (County), I’m here, and if they ever need anything, feel free to get in contact with me.”