Kathy Antoniotti

KENT: The newest member of the Kent State University Police Department might be its most popular officer with students and staff.

K-9 officer Coco, a German shepherd trained in explosives detection, evidence search and recovery, and tracking has become a celebrity of sorts, Chief John Peach said.

“Each week, we get a number of inquiries asking, ‘When is Coco going to visit us?’?” he said.

The 2-year-old Coco, who was bred in Gemany, arrived on the campus in October. Officer Anne Spahr, the dog’s handler, trainer and “mom,” was matched with Coco at Von Der Haus Gill K-9 Academy in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

The academy provided on-site training before Spahr brought Coco to the Akron area in August to teach her how to live in her home.

“She still hasn’t learned all her house manners, yet, ” said Spahr, who spends just about every waking moment with Coco.

For instance, if Coco gets bored, she has been known to fling her full water dish across the room, then sit and watch as Spahr mops it up, she said.

“She’s a lot of fun, but she is by no means a robot. She has a lot of spirit,” Spahr said.

While Coco already has been accepted on campus for her winning personality, there is a serious need to have her on the force. That is the reason Spahr’s proposal to obtain the dog for the department was approved, said Peach, who cited a recent bomb threat at Harvard University that prompted the evacuation of four campus buildings Dec. 16 as an example.

“At a major institution, a dog trained in explosives detection can clear a building in an hour or two,” Peach said. It might take 12 adults 12 hours to cover the same ground, he said.

Additionally, as only the second K-9 officer in Portage County, the acquisition of a trained explosive detection animal moves the university police into new territory when it comes to sharing resources with other institutions, Peach said.

“Kent State is part of an area-wide SWAT cohort and also [for] mutual aid with other communities and universities,” he said.

Coco proved her mettle this fall before a football game at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium during a drill.

“She handled it extremely well,” said Peach, who sounded like a proud parent.

The first-year expense to purchase the dog and to outfit Spahr’s vehicle to accommodate a K-9 was under $30,000. Beyond that, Coco works for kibble and a romp with a ratty piece of fire hose wrapped in duct tape.

“To her, it’s gold,” said Spahr, who is the only person who can give the chew toy to Coco for the completion of a task. She’s also the only one to issue her German commands.

Coco gets a different reward for each type of job she does, whether it is sweeping a room for explosives or evidence search and recovery. She can recognize more than a dozen related odors.

When not in work mode, Coco has been known to bedevil Spahr’s other pet, a German shepherd named Major who sometimes gets exasperated with her bad manners, such as stealing socks from the dryer or chewing on steel-toed shoes.

“She looks very remorseful, but I know, giving it an hour, she’ll do it again,” Spahr said.

But on duty, Coco enhances the safety and the security for the university while still being the most popular cop on the force, Peach said.

“I think the university community embraced her even more than I anticipated,” Spahr agreed.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.