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Documenting the K9 CPO Training Has Been an Honor

By Meghan Marchetti

Photos by Meghan Marchetti

As a staff photographer for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, I get to go on many photo and video assignments all over our beautiful state. When documenting a subject—be it a bear cub being released into the wild or endangered mussels being put into our rivers­—I am always amazed at the hard work of many that goes into these acts to help serve our wildlife.

With everything that has happened with the coronavirus, I have been doing my part with social distancing and working from home, which I am very fortunate to be able to do. I can assure you that I have done all the laundry, cleaned out the kitchen cabinets, and scrolled Facebook a thousand times over. Also, I have been eating all the snacks in my home; this includes the year-old Pop Tarts that I found next to the can of lima beans from 1996. Don’t worry, the lima beans were trashed! However, I have realized after talking to my cat that I was missing human interaction and my work. Not being able to get out to document and tell stories has been rather depressing.

So the other day I made the choice to venture out to take some images and video of the five dog-and-handler pair trainees working toward certification for our K9 Conservation Police Officer team while they are still training at Bear Creek State Park. So with a quick drive and some social distancing measures in place, I got to see some people that are near and dear to my heart. Without getting overly sappy, I just would like to express that I feel truly honored and blessed to work with these folks. They are putting in a lot of hard work and dedication into this K9 academy on top of being away from their families during these crazy times. It is really just awe-inspiring.

You can read all of the updates about the K9 CPO training to get to know more about them and see the images I’ve made of their activities. I’m also proud of the video I put together about their first three weeks of training.

The old quote of a dog being “man’s best friend” could not ring more true in this case. Seeing the bonds that are being developed between the dogs and handlers, as well as witnessing the CPO handlers growing as a team, is unbelievable. I have caught myself putting down my camera to just be in the moment and study what is happening in front of me.

When I had dogs, as long as we could get them to sit and shake hands we thought we were professional dog trainers. That’s not even close at what these K9s and handlers are doing! They are running over mile-long tracks, finding articles hidden in leaves and dirt, smelling out hidden wildlife and MORE! The amount of consistency and growth within this K9 team has really evolved. I can tell these K9 units are going to be top-notch at what they are training to do. They have been training and learning for countless hours, in all sorts of weather conditions and covering all kinds of terrain. They have become a pack, and their skills are becoming more fine-tuned every day.

CPO Ian Ostlund praises K9 Reese after she alerts on a gun that was hidden under leaves and brush.

On the other side, it is also sweet to see these dogs just getting to be dogs, big goofballs of fuzz that drool and play. I have been slobbered on, knocked over from excitement, and even had my camera bag peed on. Has it been worth it? A thousand times over YES! So yeah, to me these dogs are more impressive than Lassie, Paw Patrol, Scooby Doo, and Rin Tin Tin. These CPOs and their K9s are dedicated, and I am proud to get to document just a small piece of their journey.

See more about the DGIF K9 program and learn how you can sign up for email updates and donate to them!

To me, it is important to remember to put down the phone and see what is actually evolving in front of me and outside. Spring is here and wildlife and nature are doing what they have done for millions of years. Be kind to one another and don’t forget to just take a walk outside (with a safe distance, of course!). I am going to go get a Scooby Snack and take a walk with my camera.

Meghan Marchetti and retired K9 Comet.

Meghan Marchetti is a DGIF Media Specialist creating photos and videos of the work that goes on at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. 

  • March 26, 2020