Geauga County’s Top New Dogs Ready to Serve
January 13, 2023 by Rose Nemunaitis

The Geauga County Sheriff’s Office rang in the new year by adding two officers to the force.

The Geauga County Sheriff’s Office rang in the new year by adding two officers to the force.

While each has four legs and fur, and neither will ever hold a gun, K-9s Justice and Blue serve just as vital a role as their handlers, deputies Randy Primer and Travis Goodwin, respectively.

Justice, a 17-month-old German Shepherd, and Blue, an 18-month-old Dutch Shepherd, were born in Slovenia. Their breeds are known for their working ability, desire to cooperate with their handlers and, in some cases, their tenacity in fighting criminals.

The deputies and their K-9s recently completed a rigorous 10-week training program and graduated from Excel Canine Services on Dec. 30. They are certified through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and North American Police Work Dog Association in patrol-related functions and explosive detection.

“These dogs will be at work almost every day and working hard for the citizens of Geauga County,” said Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand.

The K-9s are responsible for numerous callouts, criminal apprehensions, locating missing persons, narcotics seizures and public demonstrations. They’ve spent two and a half months with their handlers in training, learning obedience, tracking, building searching, area searching, handler protection, suspect apprehensions and explosive odor detection.

“It was difficult that we lost two K-9s at the same time, but we now go into the new year with a K-9 on each shift,” Hildenbrand said, referring to the unexpected retirement of K-9s Argo and Miner last summer due to medical issues.

Justice and Blue join the division’s Sgt. Jake Smith, handler for K-9 Spirit, and Deputy Greg Borden, handler for K-9 Rotor.

Primer has worked at the sheriff’s office for 16 years and is excited to be on patrol duty with his new partner. He met Justice in October at Excel K-9 Services in Hiram Township, where owner/founder Paul Shaughnessy trains all the sheriff’s office K-9s.

“It is a wish come true being a handler at this stage in career,” said Primer, a law enforcement veteran. “I am a first-time handler and perhaps the oldest first-time handler in the state.”

Most canine handlers start earlier in their careers.

These K-9 unit positions are “one of the most sought after jobs,” according to Go Law Enforcement.

Justice lives with Primer and his family, and their two other Shepherds — Heidi and Gray Wolf.

The veteran deputy is no stranger to acting heroically.

Back in December 2017, Primer was credited with saving the life of a 2-year-old labradoodle who ventured out onto a family’s partially frozen pond.

“I am very proactive at the sheriff’s office. Justice will assist me in locating narcotics, criminal apprehension, tracking lost individuals and locating articles,” Primer said.

“Justice is here to serve the citizens of Geauga County. He is already the best partner and friend a deputy can have.”

Goodwin works patrol and is an explosive K-9 handler.

“Dogs have 225 million scent receptors in their noses (compared to a human’s 5 million),” according to the American Kennel Club. “These impressive animals come from generations of dogs specifically bred to perform the complicated tasks that police dogs are required to accomplish.”

Goodwin has been with the sheriff’s office for a decade and prior to that, served in law enforcement in North Carolina.

Blue is Goodwin’s third K-9 partner.

“Both dogs were named by the McClelland family, as they were replaced in the name of the late Sheriff Dan McClelland using the money donated in his name,” Hildenbrand said. “We are honored and grateful for this.”

The late sheriff’s wife, Beverly, said naming the dogs was the fun part.

“All our kids and grandkids came up with ideas for the names,” she said. “We chose the names Justice and Blue in honor of Dan’s devotion to law enforcement in Geauga County.”

Goodwin added the family also chose the name after a crime-fighting K-9, Blue, in one of McClelland’s favorite sitcoms, “The Andy Griffith Show.”

“It has been exciting to be a part of such an amazing project,” Beverly McClelland added. “Dan would be so honored that his friends, coworkers and community united together to get K-9s that will keep us all safer.”

McClelland, who retired in 2016, was world-famous, making the Guinness Book of World Records for owning the smallest police dog, Midge, his K-9 rat terrier chihuahua.

The two were known to be inseparable in life and both died in April 2021 on the same day.

“As a family, we are humbled and proud that Dan’s legacy will be memorialized by these two dogs,” Beverly said.

Goodwin calls his job very rewarding.

“This is the best job,” he said.

The K-9 division is funded by donations. Those interested in donating can contact Smith at 440-279-2014. Checks can be made out to Geauga County Sheriff K-9 Fund.