FREEPORT, Ill. (WTVO) — Stephenson County Sheriff’s Department has announced its first female K-9 handler.

Rachel Clay, of Dakota, graduated Highland Community College and transferred to UW Platteville for a degree in Criminal Justice before joining the Sheriff’s Department in 2018.

After working in the jail, she became a deputy officer on patrol.

She and her K-9 partner, Ralf, recently completed a six-week training course in Michigan.

“I love dogs,” she said. “Being able to work with the K-9 unit is another step in my evolving career. Attending Highland lit a small candle for me, and now I keep that fire burning. I love what I do. It is about service, and helping others.”

Clay says she and Ralf are together 24/7.

“Ralf is my partner,” she said. “I like having a partner, mine just happens to be a dog, and I couldn’t be happier how things have worked out for me this far in my career.”

The Stephenson County Sheriff’s Department has two K-9 units, which were made possible via community donations.