Officer Kaitlyn Sawyer places a Kennebunk Police Department badge on K-9 Otto's collar during the swearing in ceremony June 25 at the Board of Selectmen's meeting. Credit: Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star

KENNEBUNK, Maine — K-9 Otto, the Kennebunk Police Department’s first four-legged officer, has officially been sworn in and received his official police badge from Chief Bob MacKenzie.

Otto, a 1-year-old German shepherd from Croatia and his handler, Officer Kaitlyn Sawyer, recently completed a 14-week training course in obedience, tracking, article searches and patrol work. The team graduated from the Maine State Police 34th Basic Patrol School, at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro on June 21, and last week Otto had his first few days on the job.

He was sworn in by Town Clerk Merton Brown during the Board of Selectmen’s meeting June 25, and Otto dutifully barked in agreement to his new role.

Sawyer is a five-year veteran of the Kennebunk police force and is certified in A.R.I.D.E (Advanced Roadside Impaired Driver Enforcement) and a member of the York County R.I.D.E Team. She is actively involved in the department’s work in addressing the opioid crisis as a recovery coach, and is a member of the department’s honor guard.

Credit: Donna Buttarazzi | York County Coast Star

Following a selection process, Sawyer was selected last winter to be the K-9 handler.

“On behalf of the police department, I would like to say thank you to the Board of Selectmen, the Budget Board and the community. You should be very proud, as I am, of Officer Sawyer and K-9 Otto. They did very well at the Academy. At graduation, when they had to come up on stage, the sergeant said Otto was the best behaved dog, which he certainly was,” MacKenzie said.

“I can’t thank you enough for the support. It goes a long way to have the agency behind us, and the town behind us as well. It just goes to show the success of the K-9 program,” Sawyer said.

She said the three-month training program was one of the hardest, but most rewarding things she has done in her career.

“These are non-verbal animals. So you have to find a way to communicate. It was just as fresh for me as it was for him, so we worked through our challenges and celebrated our successes as a team,” Sawyer said.

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She said Otto was really good at article searches. He quickly learned to find something as small as a paperclip in the middle of the field.

“It was exciting to see him learn and execute. He would find an object, like a paperclip, and then just lay down with it between his front feet like he’s trained to do. It’s amazing he knew what didn’t belong there,” she said.

The training will continue for Kennebunk’s new K-9 team twice a month with the Maine State Police, and an eight-week school for drug detection later this year.