By Molly Kirk
Photos by Courtesy of CPO Mark VanDyke
The DWR K9 Conservation Police unit welcomed a new member in April! The red Labrador Retriever puppy Coal has been assigned to CPO Mark VanDyke and will start training in 2022 to serve in the K9 unit.
VanDyke, who works in the Bristol, Abingdon, and Wise County areas in Southwest Virginia, is a current K9 CPO partnered with DWR K9 veteran Avery. With Avery’s retirement on the horizon, DWR located a Lab puppy for VanDyke to train with as her replacement. “We have high expectations for him,” VanDyke said of Coal, who is three months old. “He’s still a puppy, but he’s very intelligent. He’s already sitting. He catches on very quickly and is very trainable.” VanDyke named Coal in recognition of the important role the coal industry plays in Southwest Virginia.
VanDyke enjoys working with a K9 partner. “I’ve always loved dogs since I was a kid,” he said. “They’re intelligent and fun to work with. The K9 dogs are members of our family. That communication you have with a dog and that bond are what I enjoy. I look forward to seeing Coal develop into a mature K9 over the next two years. I’ll work to socialize him and gradually work with him to introduce him to our expectations. Being a K9 handler training a dog is like being a parent watching a child walk for the first time. You get so ecstatic when they’re learning and successful.”
Coal and VanDyke plan to travel to Indiana in February 2022 to begin Coal’s K9 training at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources K9 Natural Resources Protection Academy. While Coal matures throughout the summer, VanDyke will work on socializing him to new people and public places. “I’m really going to focus on getting him around people to get him comfortable with strangers. So if you see us out and about, come up and say hi!” said VanDyke.
DWR’s K9 program is generously supported by the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation (WBWF), a non-profit organization that has also set up a donation process so the public can donate to the DWR K9 program’s expenses, including veterinary care, training, and food.