Deputy finds her call­ing in sher­iff’s K-9 unit

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - Staff Re­port

WEST CH­ESTER » When a former Ohio res­i­dent grad­u­ated from high school, she lacked a pre­de­ter­mined ca­reer path.

Septem­ber Spencer said she was driv­ing a school bus when she de­cided to re­lo­cate to Ch­ester County, where her mother had al­ready moved. A friend sug­gested that she be­longed in law en­force­ment.

“He thought it would be a good fit, and I ended up lov­ing it,” she said of the po­lice academy. She said that it dove­tailed well with her long­time in­ter­est in help­ing oth­ers.

That train­ing even­tu­ally led to the Ch­ester County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, where she be­came the of­fice’s first fe­male K-9 han­dler ear­lier this year. Al­though that de­vel­op­ment was not one she could have pre­dicted, Spencer said her hir­ing in 2009 by Ch­ester County Sher­iff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh did oc­cur some­what aus­pi­ciously.

“The sher­iff called me on my birth­day to of­fer me the job,” Spencer re­called. “It was a great birth­day present.”

Spencer be­gan her ca­reer as a deputy in the civil di­vi­sion, serv­ing court papers to county res­i­dents. In the process, she started to feel a tug in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, one rooted in her child­hood.

Hav­ing grown up with ac­cess to a farm owned by her grand­par­ents, Spencer said she de­vel­oped a love for an­i­mals. At the Sher­iff’s Of­fice, she found her­self en­am­ored of the K-9 Unit, a well-re­garded team that marked its 10-year an­niver­sary in 2016.

Es­tab­lished to serve cit­i­zens and as­sist law en­force­ment in mul­ti­ple ar­eas, the unit cur­rently has 10 dogs, all of which are trained in track­ing as well as in spe­cial­ties, such as de­tect­ing bombs and ex­plo­sives, drugs, ac­cel­er­ants and ca­dav­ers.

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by what an­i­mals can do, and the op­por­tu­nity to com­bine that with my job as a deputy re­ally ap­pealed to me,” Spencer said. “You don’t get that chance any­where else.”

Spencer ap­plied to join the team in late 2015, ini­ti­at­ing a

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by what an­i­mals can do, and the op­por­tu­nity to com­bine that with my job as a deputy re­ally ap­pealed to me.” — Ch­ester County Sher­iff’s Deputy Septem­ber Spencer

fiercely com­pet­i­tive ap­pli­ca­tion process. At the time, Lt. Harry McKin­ney, who heads the unit, ex­plained that some­times well-qual­i­fied can­di­dates get turned down for rea­sons that have noth­ing to do with their qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

“You need to match the per­son­al­ity of the dog with the han­dler,” McKin­ney said. “If you don’t, you could end up in a sit­u­a­tion where the han­dler or the dog is too dom­i­nant.”

When she wasn’t se­lected, Spencer said she re­signed her­self to the fact that she wouldn’t be join­ing the unit and then got sum­moned by the sher­iff about a year later, this past March. “She asked me if I was still in­ter­ested,” Spencer said. “When I said that I was, she urged me to dou­ble-check with my fam­ily to make sure every­one was still on board.”

McKin­ney ex­plained that

the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a K-9 han­dler im­pact ev­ery per­son in the house­hold. The dogs live with their han­dlers, who can be sum­moned for duty at a mo­ment’s no­tice 24/7. He felt that Luke, a drug-sniff­ing black Labrador re­triever, had a tem­per­a­ment that matched Spencer’s. In ad­di­tion, Luke needed a warm, fam­ily en­vi­ron­ment where he would get lots of at­ten­tion.

“It was love at first sight,” es­pe­cially for her 10-yearold daugh­ter, said Spencer of her fam­ily’s in­tro­duc­tion to Luke. She ex­plained the sub­stan­tial com­mit­ment, but every­one agreed that the ben­e­fits out­weighed any down­sides.

“Most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize just how much work it is,” Spencer said, “but it’s def­i­nitely worth it.”

Spencer and Luke earned cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in May af­ter a 400-hour reg­i­men; how­ever, that just marked the be­gin­ning. “Ev­ery day you do some sort of obe­di­ence train­ing; it’s never-end­ing.”

In ad­di­tion, the team

does 16 hours of train­ing per month on top of nor­mal main­te­nance and groom­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. So far, the team has re­sponded to a hand­ful of calls re­quest­ing Luke’s drug-sniff­ing or track­ing ex­per­tise and done nu­mer­ous demon­stra­tions for school and com­mu­nity groups, some­times as many as three a week.

“Be­cause of Luke’s tem­per­a­ment, he’s very pop­u­lar at demos,” Spencer said. “Every­body al­ways loves him. He’s just a sweet­heart. He en­joys the interaction – as well as the at­ten­tion.”

Al­though Spencer is some­times in­tro­duced as the unit’s first fe­male han­dler, she pointed out that her se­lec­tion was not gen­der-driven.

“I earned it the same way any of the males did,” Spencer said.

Welsh agreed. “She at­tained the po­si­tion through her skills and abil­i­ties,” Welsh said. “The fact that she’s the first fe­male K-9 han­dler is just an ex­tra source of pride.”


Ch­ester County Sher­iff’s Deputy Septem­ber Spencer en­joys work­ing with her K-9 part­ner Luke, who is trained in track­ing and nar­cotics de­tec­tion.

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