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The DWR Conservation Police K9 Program

Photos by Meghan Marchetti

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ K9 program is a specialized unit consisting of eight teams of Conservation Police Officers paired with canine partners. The primary purpose of the K9 program is to further the agency’s mission by conserving wildlife populations and habitat, connecting people to Virginia’s outdoors, and protecting Virginia’s people and their property.

What They Do

Each K9 team receives specialized training in human tracking, evidence recovery, and wildlife detection. These elite K9 teams assist law enforcement personnel by tracking violators, detecting concealed wildlife and firearms, and conducting area searches for evidence recovery. Additionally, the K9 teams assist other enforcement agencies by tracking fugitives from justice, recovering evidence at crime scenes, and locating missing or lost persons.

An image of K9 police dog which is a black lab named Sky tracking near a pond

K9 Conservation Police Officer Sky practicing tracking with Master Officer Richard Howald.

The K9 teams are used to educate the public and deter violators through demonstrations of the K9 teams’ abilities and presentations for schools, interested groups, and media. By providing resource management information during K9 demonstrations and presentations, we hope to foster a sense of wildlife stewardship with the outdoor community. For information on requesting a K9 presentation for your organization, please contact our K9 unit.

Caring for the CPO K9s

You can help support the CPO K9s! Through the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, a special 501(c)(3) non-profit fund has been set up for the public to show their support and contribute to the care of DWR’s K9 CPOs. Contributions will help pay for equipment, food, general wellness care, and veterinary care for these canine officers. You can send donations with “K9 Fund” noted to the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, PO Box 519, Halifax, VA 24558 or click to donate directly via PayPal.


Follow Along with the K9s

Keep up with the DWR K9s with articles about their training, their equipment, and how they work for wildlife.

Meet the CPO K9s

An image of the black Lab K9 officer Sky and Richard Howland in a forest

K9 Sky and Master CPO Richard Howald

An image of Mark DiLuigi and his K9 officer a yellow Lab named Lily

K9 Lily and Master CPO Mark DiLuigi

An image of Ian Ostlund and his K9 officer a chocolate lab named Reese

K9 Reese and CPO Ian Ostlund

An image of Tyler Blanks and his K9 officer a chocolate lab named Bruno

K9 Bruno and CPO Tyler Blanks

An image of Bonnie Braziel and her K9 officer a black lab named Grace

K9 Grace and CPO Bonnie Braziel

An image of Mark VanDyke and his K9 officer a red lab named Coal

K9 Coal and CPO Mark VanDyke

An image of Jacob Chaffin and his K9 officer a chocolate lab named Molly

K9 Molly and CPO Jacob Chaffin

Thanks to CPO K9s Who Have Retired

An image of James Patrillo and his K9 officer a black lab named Bailey

K9 Bailey and CPO James Patrillo

An Image of Frank Spuchesi with his retired K9 officer a black and white dog named Comet

Retired K9 Comet and Sergeant CPO Frank Spuchesi

An image of Richard Howald and his retired K9 officer a yellow lab named Scout

Retired K9 Scout and CPO Richard Howald

An image of Wayne Billhimer and his retired K9 officer a black lab named Justice

Retired K9 Justice and CPO Wayne Billhimer

An image of Megan Vick and her retired K9 officer a yellow lab named Jake

Retired K9 Jake and CPO Megan Vick

An image of Wes Billings and his retired K9 officer a chocolate lab named Josie

K9 Josie and Senior CPO Wes Billings

The History of the DWR K9 Program

DWR established its K9 program in the fall of 2010. Three carefully selected candidates and their potential canine partners were selected to attend the 2011 Indiana K9 Natural resources Protection Program. While in Indiana, the three K9 teams received more than 400 hours of training before being certified as Natural Resource K9 Teams. After graduation, the three certified K9 teams made an immediate impact on the Law Enforcement agency’s mission by detecting numerous wildlife violators and locating several missing persons.

The initial success of the K9 program on Virginia’s natural resources prompted the agency to expand the program by adding two additional K9 teams in 2012. The K9 program has continued to grow and currently operates with seven K9 teams. Since the creation of the program, the K9 teams have located numerous lost or missing persons, assisted local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies by locating evidence at crime scenes, and helped DWR officers charge more than 1,000 wildlife-related cases. We are excited to see what the future holds for this program.

  • January 24, 2020