Dogs sniff out cell phones

Holding the line between prison and the rest of the world is a constant job.

"What I've seen is inmates are opportunistic," said corrections officer Val Valenzuela.

"Metal detectors are a very good tool, we're still using that, of course and staff that will get out there and do those searches," said Ralph Pendergast, Service Dog Program Administrator for the Department of Corrections.

But those measures are not always enough. And the concern goes beyond weapons.

"A lot of security threats by having a device like a cell phone in a prison where we can't monitor, we have no clue of what they are planning," Pendergast said.

"Different parts and components to the cell phones (are for) training aides. The odor will transfer," Valenzuela said as he held a jar of cell phone pieces.

Cricket, a shelter dog trained to find cell phones, is what you might call old technology used in a new way.

"We do all the training here at the department," Pendergast said.

But she is new to the job and on Thursday, the television camera bothered her.

"She's still a pup," Valenzuela said.

But when scratched the cabinet that held a cell phone, and pawed a metal locker that held one, it was supposed to show that she was dialing in on the scent of the device.

"I wouldn't be able to smell a cell phone," Valenzuela said.

Dogs like Cricket that are helping the Department of Corrections are also getting something out of the deal. They are shelter dogs, and their energy would make them unadoptable in many situations.

"These would be the dogs that if you turned them loose in your house, they would destroy your house. Put them in the backyard they would dig up all your trees and dig holes. What we're doing is giving this type of dog a job, and they're very happy doing this kind of work on a daily basis," Pendergast said.

"It's kind of a win-win situation," Valenzuela said.

A win for the officers who need help is also a win for the dogs who need somewhere to live and something to do.

"Even better, it's a game and they're working for a chew toy or a ball or something, so they work cheap, plus you get to work with dogs," Valenzuela said.

The Department of Corrections now has four cell phone sniffing dogs and they want one for every complex which would be ten. Training that many dogs could take through the end of next year.

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