Department of Game and Inland Fisheries announces passing of K9 Justice
Justice, a 10-year-old black Labrador retriever, joined the DGIF as a K9 officer in 2011 and was partnered with Senior CPO Wayne Billhimer.
Justice retired from service on Jan. 22 after a cancer diagnosis. Billhimer and his wife, Molly adopted Justice and cared for him during his retirement and treatment.
“It’s hard to put into words, the bond we shared. He was part of my family ,” said Billhimer. “He was truly my best friend, who I fortunately got to take to work with me.”
K9 Justice and Billhimer worked together on evidence detection, suspect tracking, missing person searches, wildlife violation identification, and public outreach.
“Justice taught me lots of things in our time together, but one thing that stands out is perseverance,” Billhimer said. “Some of the hardest cases we did were older cases, so we didn’t start working the case until a few day s after the crime. Justice would push through and never give up. The only time he would stop was when I would physically stop him and say, ‘We’re done.’ We tracked a suspect once and went seven miles. I was exhausted, but not once did Justice give up. He just kept going.”
K9 Justice also excelled at outreach events for DGIF, helping to educate the public about DGIF’s work and to connect the CPOs with people. He and Billhimer did many demonstrations and appearances at events.
“Justice would put on quite a show,” said Billhimer. “You could ask Justice what the limit on trout was, and he’d bark six times. That was a crowd favorite. When y ou said the word ‘bad guy,’ he’d bark. That helped our demos at schools and got a lot of attention. Justice knew his role in our demo really well.”
“As one of the first group of K9 officers, I’d say Justice set the example,” said Major Scott Naff of the DGIF Conservation Police. “Justice and Way ne were mentors for newer handlers as the program developed. One of the more notable cases they solved was a turkey poacher in Shenandoah County. The seizures related to that case are on display in the lobby at DGIF headquarters .”
Major Naff also acknowledged the wide impact that Justice and Billhimer had on the public through their outreach efforts.
“Justice and Wayne were the face of the K9 program, especially in Western Virginia. Through Wayne’s initiative, Justice connected with more than three million people through the [popular 2018 Virginia Conservation Police] lip snyc video,” said Naff.
The DGIF Conservation Police K9 program is generously supported by the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation’s Caring for the CPO K9s fund.
Donations help support DGIF’s K9 program with veterinary bills, wellness-related costs, and more.