Correctional Officer credits dog with alerting to hidden rattlesnake

By Don Chaddock, InsideCDCR editor

An inmate-trained dog alerted its handler and a Correctional Officer to a potentially dangerous situation.

Nieve, a dog in the Canine Companions for Independence puppy program at Folsom Women’s Facility, was recently on a walk with her inmate handler. They stopped to greet Correctional Officer Matthew Downer but the dog became very interested in a nearby pipe.

Correctional Officer Matthew Downer credits Nieve, an inmate-trained dog, with sniffing out a rattlesnake hidden in a pipe.

Correctional Officer Matthew Downer credits Nieve, an inmate-trained dog, with sniffing out a rattlesnake hidden in a pipe.

“(The inmate handler) brought her dog over and I did my typical playing with the dog, but when she tried to take the dog and leave, Nieve went right to the bottom of a black pipe that was leaning against a wall approximately 12 inches from me,” Officer Downer said. “She pulled the dog away from the pipe and tried to lead her away, but the dog immediately put her nose near the bottom of the pipe.”

The dog was determined and Downer is grateful.

“We looked at the pipe and thought that a bug was under it,” he said. “When I pulled up the pipe, a rattlesnake fell out.”

The snake was approximately 18 inches long with “a couple rattlers on the end of its tail,” he said.

“I relocated the snake but there is no doubt in my mind that if the dog had not alerted me, … it would have been all bad for me,” he said. “As it was warming up, that snake would have come out and (I was) sitting so close.”

Officer Downer said he’s very familiar with dog behavior.

“Being around dogs all my life, that dog instinctively warned me of the danger,” he said. “I just think it’s a neat thing that something so simple can make sense in a world in prison where some things don’t make sense.”

For Officer Downer, having an inmate-trained dog help save him is fitting.

“I’m at the end of a 29-year career and just wanted someone to hear a good story come out of a prison setting,” he said.

Learn more about Nieve and Canine Companions for Independence, http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/2014/11/folsom-womens-facility-inmates-train-puppies-to-become-service-dogs/