Skip to Main Content

K9 Josie’s End of Watch

By Molly Kirk/DWR

Photos by Meaghan Marchetti/DWR

K9 Josie, a veteran of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Conservation Police K9 force, sadly passed away on January 29. Josie, who worked as a K9 with partner Conservation Police Sergeant Wes Billings, began her service in January of 2012 and retired in January of 2020.

“She was a one-of-a kind-dog,” said Billings. “She will be missed. She did her best when she was allowed to be just a dog. She used her nose and showed me what she found. If I put her in the right situation, she made it happen. It was really neat to connect it all together.”

A photo of a brown Labrador Retriever dog sitting proudly, with a law enforcement badge on her collar.

K9 Josie’s official DWR Conservation Police K9 portrait.

Josie was involved in investigating more than 400 violations during her eight-year career. “During most of our years together we would log up to 20 miles a week patrolling by foot and assisting other officers to make more solid cases,” Billings recalled. “She was especially good at finding baited stands and illegally killed wildlife and illegal fish. It was funny to overhear the hunters at sporting goods stores talking about her when they didn’t know I was listening. She kept them on their toes for sure.”

Master Conservation Police Officer (CPO) Richard Howald, who leads the DWR K9 unit, laughed as he remarked that “We called Josie the ‘Corn Dog’ because if it was one kernel of corn or 50 pounds of corn, she’d find it.” Howald noted that Josie’s trademark was her boundless energy.

“The first day I tested her, she jumped straight up and hit me with her head right in my nose and almost broke my nose,” said Howald. “She spun out of the collar and was gone. It was quite a first day. And she was that energetic all through her career. When she found items, she’d just jump up and down on top of them like a kangaroo. I’ve also never seen a dog sprayed by skunks more times than Josie.”

A photo of a brown Labrador Retriever jumping excitedly next to a kneeling Conservation Police Officer.

K9 Josie and Sergeant Wes Billings.

“Josie was a burst of energy,” said Billings. “She was an exception to the rule of working dogs. If you see pictures of her and I together, I was always having to control her. She didn’t like to stay still very much!  But she was always very sweet and totally non-aggressive.”

Howald credited the relationship between Josie and Billings as the key to their success over the years. “Josie would do anything Wes would ask her to do,” he said. “Wes would take her collar out and ask her, ‘You want to go to work?’ and that dog would go right between his legs and stick her head in the collar and take off. They did everything together, and she and Wes worked as a team so well.”

A photo of a brown Labrador Retriever dog running in a harness with a long leash, with a Conservation Police Officer holding the leash.

K9 Josie and Sergeant Wes Billings during a tracking training session.

DWR adopted Josie as a young dog from an animal shelter, so they’re not sure exactly how old she was and what breed she was. Howald estimated she was 13 or 14 when she passed. “We think she might have been an Australian Shepherd-Labrador mix or something,” said Howald. “We don’t know, but there was something in there with a lot of energy!”

Billings recalled one case Josie worked that stands out to him. “We were patrolling a piece of property by foot and Josie found a single kernel of corn in an ATV trail going back to a large tract of hunting property,” he said. “At about the same time we found the corn, an ATV came by hauling out a large buck. We dove over the bank and let them pass. After they passed, we used Josie to follow where they had come from. We then tracked to their baited tree stand and found the entrails to the deer and big piles of corn. We were able to photograph all the evidence and send it to the other officer via text that was following the ATV back to the barn where they were parked. He confronted them with the evidence and the rest is history. I wish I had a recorder for all our cases. Some of them were absolutely fabulous. If you speak with any officer in Region 3 that had worked with her, they have stories to tell.”

Two brown Labrador Retriever dogs lying next to each other with happy looks on their faces.

K9 Josie (right) enjoyed having K9 Molly (left) as a companion. K9 Molly worked with Sergeant Wes Billings after Josie retired, but now is partnered with CPO Chaffin because Billings was promoted. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Wes Billings

After her retirement in 2020, Josie stayed with Billings and his family, roaming their property and enjoying herself. “She would do whatever she wanted to during the day, and she would wait for me to put her in the kennel at night. She had a good life,” said Billings. Josie’s retirement was generously  sponsored by Paws of Honor.

  • February 13, 2024