The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) just welcomed five new Conservation Police Officers– all with floppy ears and killer senses of smell.
Five handlers and dogs spent the spring training to be K-9 Conservation Police Officers (CPOs). With training now complete, the dogs and their CPO handlers participated in a certification ceremony and are already on the job solving cases. K-9s Lily, Molly, Bruno, Reese and Grace went through intensive training with their handlers. The final of three sessions solidified the trainees’ skills in tracking and article searches, testing them in new ways to expand their capabilities.
“We made sure everybody was where they needed to be in the training process,” says Master CPO Mark Diluigi, who handles K-9 Lily. “It’s like kids in school; some kids take a little longer to grasp it, but they really get it and run with it when they do. Every dog is different; every handler is different. You have to work with your dog and read your dog.”
The pandemic prevented a full graduation ceremony, but the K-9 unit was able to meet and officially honor Master CPO Mark Diluigi with K-9 Lily, Senior CPO Wes Billings with K-9 Molly, CPO Tyler Blanks with K-9 Bruno, CPO Ian Ostlund with K-9 Reese, and CPO Bonnie Braziel with K-9 Grace. They join four existing K-9 teams to round out the full force.
The new K-9 teams have been able to immediately apply the skills they learned in training out in the field. K-9 Bruno and handler CPO Tyler Blanks helped uncover evidence in a poaching case where someone trespassed and killed a hen turkey out of season.
“I was stunned for a second when Bruno found the shotgun wad in the field,” Blanks says. “I noticed his change in behavior when he located the odor, and then he sat to alert on the item. When I approached and saw it was the wad from the shot shell I could not have been more proud of him. Even the officer I was assisting yelled from a distance and said, ‘Man that just made me proud.’”
By adding the new K-9 teams, DGIF Conservation Police can cover the entire state of Virginia. “With adding these five, we were able to address our Northern Virginia and Tidewater needs, as well as Southside Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley,” says Major Scott Naff.
The DGIF K-9 program is supported by the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation (WBWF). Donations to the Caring for the CPO K-9s Fund go to veterinary care, maintenance costs, and training for the K-9 CPOs.
-Meg Walburn Viviano