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The DGIF Conservation Police K9 Program

Photos by Meghan Marchetti

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ K9 program is a specialized unit consisting of five 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.

K9 Conservation Police Officer Sky practicing tracking with 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 DGIF’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 New Recruits

On February 2, 2020, five new dogs will begin training to become K9 Conservation Police Officers alongside their handlers, existing Virginia DGIF CPOs. You can follow their progress by signing up for a special email newsletter that DGIF will send every two weeks to those who sign up. The first email will introduce you to the five new dogs and let you know a bit about their personalities. Emails will include updates of the K9 trainees’ education and training, special photos and videos of them, and exclusive interviews with their handlers. Sign up to receive the K9 trainee emails and you’ll also be eligible to be selected for an exclusive meet-and-greet with some of the DGIF CPO K9s, which will also include a training session!

Meet the CPO K9s

K9 Avery and CPO Mark VanDyke

K9 Bailey and CPO James Patrillo

K9 Josie and Senior CPO Wes Billings

K9 Sky and Senior CPO Richard Howald

K9 Waylon and CPO Glenn Cramer

Thanks to CPO K9s Who Have Retired

Retired K9 Comet and Sergeant CPO Frank Spuchesi

Retired K9 Scout and CPO Richard Howald

Retired K9 Jake and CPO Megan Vick

Retired K9 Justice and CPO Wayne Billhimer

The History of the DGIF K9 Program

DGIF 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 five 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 DGIF officers charge more than 1,000 wildlife-related cases. We are excited to see what the future holds for this program.

  • January 24, 2020