On the lapel of her sweater, Princella Hunter wears two pins. One is the lapel pin of her son Shaft Hunter that is pinned through a swatch of his uniform. The other is a guardian angel.
TFC Hunter, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, was killed on May 21, 2011, in a traffic collision while on duty in Howard County.
On Friday, Oct. 5, Princella Hunter and her granddaughter Brianna Hunter, Shaft Hunter's daughter, met Maryland State Police K-9 Hunter, named in his honor.
K-9 Hunter, a Belgian malinois, and handler TFC Shawn Brown graduated with four other pairs from training class for dual CDS and patrol K-9s at the Maryland State Police (MSP) Training Academy in Sykesville. Three of the K-9s are named after fallen MSP troopers.
Princella Hunter’s eyes were full as she pinned Brown with his K-9 unit pin. She said it reminded her of pinning her son during his graduation from recruit training with the Marines.
“There are so many memories,” she said.
The naming of K-9 Hunter was a meaningful tribute, and an enhancement of the police promise to honor his memory.
“They said our son would never be forgotten,” she said.
She said wearing her son’s pin starts conversations. She enjoys speaking with others about him and the difficulty of the job he held.
Brown and Hunter are assigned to the MSP Westminster Barrack, where Shaft Hunter also served for some time. He was a K-9 handler. Like Hunter, Brown is a veteran of the Marine Corps.
Brianna Hunter remembers her father's K-9 partner Bear, who lived with the family during his work with MSP and afterward in retirement.
“He felt very protective for us,” she said.
For Brown, the fast-paced training program was also a time of family change when his son was born about a month into the program.
He was stationed at the Westminster Barrack at the same time as TFC Hunter before joining the Marines. He said working with him helped put him down the path to become a K-9 handler.
Commander of the Westminster Barrack, Lt. Rebecca Bosely, said of Brown: “He’s an outstanding trooper.. and brings a lot of expertise. He knows this county.”
In addition to calls for service with MSP members, the pair will go out with allied agencies including the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and municipal police departments.
Two of the graduating class were veteran handlers being paired with new dogs and three, including Brown, had been paired with their first dog. One graduate was a member of the Easton Police Department.
K-9 Plank is paired with Cpl. Dana Orndorff and named in honor of Trooper First Class Edward Plank. K-9 Wade, is paired with Trooper First Class Kyle Morrison and is named in honor of Trooper Gary Wade.
The MSP K-9 unit includes 33 troopers and 41 K-9s.
The selection process for prospective candidates for the K-9 unit is a difficult one, especially as the easy availability of social media places the actions of law enforcement under greater scrutiny than before, unit leaders said at the ceremony.
First Sgt. John Meville also thanked the families of the K-9 handlers for welcoming the dogs into their homes.
"Let me take this time now to apologize in advance for the late-night phone calls to come, assignments all over the state, and that for as hard as you try, you will never be able to get rid of all the dog hair."
Cpl. Adam Thomas, patrol and CDS K-9 training supervisor, who worked with the handlers every day of training told them, "Your hard work and dedication was not unnoticed. Each day you arrived to training, you were early, you were prepared and you gave me 110 percent."
For the future, he said, "As K-9 handlers, you need to be self-motivated. But don't rely on motivation alone, as it is just an emotion and emotions can fade. Instead, rely on your discipline."