York County drug dog rescued from puppy mill retires from law enforcement

A Labrador retriever that came close to being euthanized after his rescue from a puppy mill is now enjoying his retirement after nearly a decade in law enforcement.

Justice “Kilo” Gibson, a narcotics K-9 with the York County Sheriff’s Office, has officially retired from the agency and will spend the rest of his days at the home of his handler, Master Deputy Randy Gibson.

The decision to retire Justice was due mainly to his age and Gibson’s decision to return to road patrols. Justice was rescued in 2007 after law enforcement busted a puppy mill in Union County, N.C., Gibson said.

Many of the dogs rescued from that mill had to be put down. Because Justice, around 15 months old at the time, was so malnourished, animal control officials considered euthanizing him but first tried giving him food and water.

Gibson said the dog gained 10 pounds in the first week after his rescue.

“He wasn’t in the worst shape, but he was in pretty bad shape,” he said. “He was on the brink of being put down, but he survived, and here he is today.”

At the time, the York County Sheriff’s Office was looking for a narcotics K-9.

“All they did was take a ball and look at several dogs,” Gibson said. “He was the one that really stood out. When he saw that ball and wanted to play, his eyes bulged out.”

Though not “extremely common” for law enforcement agencies to train rescue animals in-house to become service dogs, Gibson said it’s still a common practice.

Gibson’s wife, Brandy, said she was hesitant when her husband said he was becoming a K-9 handler.

“I was a little apprehensive because we had a puppy at home already,” she said. “We’re animal lovers; we have a farm at home now.”

That “farm” includes two cats, a rabbit, a fish and another dog, Brandy Gibson said. She added that Justice loves their cats but is scared of their Shih Tzu.

“We just started loving on him,” she said. “You couldn’t help it; he was just so precious. It’s almost like he knew where he came from, and he knew how he was treated.”

Justice may think of himself as a cuddly lap dog, she said, but he knows when it’s time to work.

“It’s like a switch, and he’s a totally different dog,” she said.

The tennis ball Justice loves playing with is also his primary reward for locating a drug item, Randy Gibson says. The dog has made some big busts in nearly 10 years on the job, including one just months after his rescue.

During a 2007 traffic stop on Interstate 85 in Spartanburg County, Gibson said, Justice was alerted to a vehicle in which 35 kilos of cocaine was stashed in a hidden compartment. It was after that stop that officers gave Justice his middle name, “Kilo.”

Just last month, prosecutors sentenced a man to 25 years in prison for drug trafficking – in part, Gibson said, because Justice smelled drugs in the vehicle during a traffic stop in February 2015. A second defendant in that case is awaiting trial on trafficking charges.

“It was solely a K-9 alert,” he said. “If the dog hadn’t alerted to the car, I couldn’t have searched it. He made the case.”

Gibson is now on road patrol in the Fort Mill area.

“Now I’ve got bad guys riding behind me versus my dog,” he said.

While Justice will spend the rest of his days lounging around, Gibson said he has just over three years before he’s eligible for retirement.

“It’s been a fun ride for us,” he said after interviews and pictures with reporters Monday. “This was our closure.”

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