After thoroughly searching two empty motel rooms, K9 Cooper went through every corner of a third before signaling to his partner Cumberland County Deputy Sheriff Matt Tufts that it contained hidden drugs. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

NORWAY — Vince and Michelle Williams, who purchased the old Inn Town Motel in Norway last spring, have been been doggedly renovating and repairing it since the moment they closed on it. When local law enforcement asked if the empty rooms could be made available for K9 training and certification earlier this month, the Williams quickly agreed.

On Nov. 16 when officers and their K9 partners from as far away as Aroostook County arrived and started their exercises, setting up suspicious packages in various rooms that the dogs are trained to sniff out, the Williams did not give it a second thought. But their neighbors sure did.

“Suddenly everybody was speculating on what’s going on, like ‘oh no! Those guys are out of business already!’ Because of the cops are all around,” laughed Vince Williams on Thursday morning, as another round of K9 training went on in the parking lot and vacant rooms. “But no, no raids. It was pretty funny. They opened up everything, we told them they could use the basement.”

Vince said then another training coordinator, Det. Adam Fillebrown of Maine State Police Troop B out of Gray, stopped in to see if his group could utilize the empty motel as well. The Williams immediately said yes.

“The guys here today speculated we’d get more of that (rumors and speculation) again. But we’re not worried about any of that.”

The Williams hope that large gatherings of different police vehicles with K9s will help send a non-verbal message that the motel has turned the page for good and new management means a new approach to guest stays.

“We [did this because we] want to help the community out anyway, but we still have people stopping in almost daily asking for a room for the year,” he said.

“It’s the old clientele,” Michelle added.

“This is not that place,” Vince said. “This is strictly a motel. The thought was with all these officers here doing their thing, maybe they’ll get the picture. And we think this is cool and we’re happy to share.”

“It’s good will, really,” said Michelle. “It came about from our relationship with two Norway officers, (Officer) Holli Pullen and (former School Resource Officer) Christina Sugars. It was their suggestion and then Officer Lewis who is the K9 in Norway, had them stop by to ask.”

Cooper, a five year old Malinois/Dutch Shepherd cross, was part of the second training along with his handler, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Tufts. Cooper is a dual K9, doing both patrol searches and drug searches. Cooper is Tufts’ second K9 partner. Rocky, his first, is retired and is happy to stay home while his replacement works to find the bad guys.

It’s different going from one dog to the next,” Tufts said. “It’s difficult not to compare old dog to new dog. They’re different, with different strengths. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses and know what you can do with them.”

Tufts said Cooper is very obedient, energetic and well suited to officer protection. At 62 pounds he is a bit on the small side, a characteristic that Tufts considers a strength. His tracking abilities are well known.

Last Thursday Cooper and six other K9s were put through their paces as part of regular training. The dogs are expected to do it at least once a month for each discipline they work in. They can scent drugs stashed in pretty much any hiding place, including fireproof safes or vaults.

“That’s not even enough,” said Trainer and Maine State Police Detective Adam Fillebrown of Troop B in Gray, adding that officers and K2s work together during their free time, as they are housemates as well as partners.

“The majority of our dogs come from overseas,” Tufts said. “They are not cheap. These come with a warranty. They’re guaranteed to certify in a year.

“Drive determines if they make a good drug dog. Whether they want to work or go find (things). If you throw a ball into the bushes and he goes to the edge of the bushes and just stands there? That’s not the type of dog you want. You want a dog that’s going to launch over the top of that and stay there for hours until he finds it. Cooper can scale a wall six feet or higher.”

Fillebrown and Maine Department of Corrections Cpl. Robert Bowen work together on regular K9 training days. Bowen and his Belgian Malinois K9 Kona are based at the Maine State Prison in Warren. The two investigate drug crimes within the prison system and outside.

Statewide there are about 80 active K9s on the job. Fillebrown and Bowen are in charge of one of four training units and regularly work with about 50 K9s and their handlers.

“As assistant trainers we have our own dogs but we also train the other dogs,” Fillebrown explained. “We have dogs from sheriff’s departments, local departments, Corrections and us (State police). Today there is another training going on in York. We have a sergeant and a corporal in charge of the state’s K9 unit, and that’s their full time job.”

The dogs’ maintenance training is done to expose them to as many environments as possible. They need to be able to navigate residential stairs and open grate stairs with the same confidence and discipline, and different surfaces from forest floor to concrete.

Last Thursday the dogs went in and out of the motel rooms, some empty and some containing drugs. The K9s also train in other public places including stores like Tractor Supply, where there is an abundance of different foods the dogs have to be able to resist while scenting for illegal substances.

The Williams will welcome the K9 units back anytime, seeing their presence as dual benefit. The couple is able to provide an important community service and also demonstrate that with gatherings of law enforcement onsite there has been a changing of the guard that cannot be confused with previous management.

Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Tufts watches as his K9 partner Cooper searches for drugs during a training session at the old Inn Town Motel in Norway last Thursday. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

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