Changing gears

The former Suburban News office was located on Route 302, right at Boody’s Corner. In the summer, the traffic was horrendous, and obviously slowed down just at the doorsteps of the newspaper office, waiting for the traffic light to change.

One day, as employees were wondering what the sirens were about and went to investigate, a police car pulled an old beat up truck over, and right behind the police car was a newer vehicle.

Newspaper workers watched, as a big, tall man got out of the third vehicle. On a leash was a small, brindle colored dog which he led right to the old truck. Into the cab of the truck the dog went, while the driver and occupants sat on the curb. Just like magic, the dog had sniffed out drugs in the truck. The dog’s owner, Russ Kelley, had been on his way home from work at Maine Correctional Center, and this drug stop just happened to make that trip a little longer.

Those kinds of days are now history for Kelley, as he has retired after over 27 years at MCC.

If one types his name into, though, a picture will pop up of him with a dog. And even in retirement, he has dogs around all the time.

Kelley grew up in Windham, played basketball at Windham High School and served in the U. S. Navy. He found his niche with Maine Correctional Center in 1978, where he became a security supervisor, K-9 handler/trainer/evaluator and conducted drug searches, tracked escapees and lost children and worked with the Maine State Police for 17 years training K-9s.

In the spring of 2004, Kelley started thinking about retirement. As in many places of employment, there was a feeling of “getting senior management out of the way” and new plans afoot. Plus, Kelley says, “I had the age and number of years required to retire and began to think of what else I could do, after all that time. I can’t stand sitting around doing nothing. Besides, State retirement isn’t enough to get by on.”

Following numerous meetings and the wrapping up of many details, Kelley left MCC and within a couple of weeks, started his own carpentry business called JandRkelley carpentry. He says “I soon found out that I wished I had retired two years earlier. I am very happy working when I want and doing jobs I like. I’m fortunate to have had a father who taught me carpentry skills.”

Although he has been “out of the carpentry world” for a number of years, his reputation in that field has provided a good retirement income. He didn’t encounter any difficulty at all, even though many of the builders are younger than he is. “My price may be a little lower than most, but I can make a good profit without robbing people,” he laughs. “I’ll never retire fully.”

Being able to pick and choose when to work is of great value to Kelley. He gets to spend a lot of time “spoiling granddaughter Alivia and the new grandchild to be born in March. I’ll go deerhuntng and fish some, but nowadays, I kind of like to just watch the deer. They are truly a beautiful animal.”

In the new home he built for he and his wife, Jo, he can watch many deer and lots of other wildlife, as well. He and Jo have hung many birdfeeders around in the trees surrounding their home. All of this wildlife is of great entertainment to their young granddaughter.

“My life now is good and the only way it could be better is by spending more time with family and the little ones. They are what life is all about. My wife is the best “nana” there is and she’s my best friend, too,” he said.

Never to leave the dogs in the past, though, Kelley and his wife have two Dalmatians, and a German Shepherd named Liberty, and also Abbie. And the latest addition: two Golden Retriever pups and a year-old black Lab. The Kelleys are “baby-sitting” the pups for special duty in the future. The lab will be leaving in August for Arson School. One of the Retrievers will be going to a prison in New Hampshire, one to Angola Prison in Louisiana. If they complete the training program, they will become service dogs and placed with people with disabilities.

There may be more dogs in the future; as Kelley says, “We’ve always got room for one more.”

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