Story by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Clarissa Resultan, TV Specialist
Office of Public and Employee Communications

For a few dozen high school students, Tuesday’s morning session was anything but normal. As the Florin High School students took their seats in the school’s theater, CDCR K-9 officers waited patiently in the wings for the session to begin.

The high school offers a special program aimed at teens who would like to pursue a career in law. Field trips to courthouses and guest speakers help the students guide their potential career paths. On this day, the students were treated to K-9 demonstrations as thanks for helping set up CDCR’s 2018 Medal of Valor ceremony. The student helpers also received certificates of appreciation from Rep. Ami Bera.

Sgt. Charles Chamberlin, a 17-year CDCR veteran who oversees the northern California K-9 program, fielded questions and coordinated the demonstration.

“I know some of you are looking at law as a career path. Within CDCR, there are various things you can do. We are part of the Investigative Services Unit,” he said, explaining the K-9 unit’s role. “I started working in the building (in custody). I love dogs so it’s perfect for me.”

Officer Kenneth “Jack” Jacquinot and his four-legged partner Grizzly work at Mule Creek State Prison searching for contraband. Grizzly, feisty and energetic, gave a demonstration of his searching prowess. After excitedly bouncing around to sniff boxes he stopped, sat and quietly pointed with his nose – it’s called a passive alert.

Grizzly’s role at CDCR was his second chance as he was originally meant to be a seeing-eye dog but his hyperactivity got him kicked out of the program.

“Grizzly is a little crazy,” said Officer Jacquinot, “but he does a great job. He recently dug up almost a pound of narcotics buried outside the institution.”

Dogs are uniquely suited to sniffing out contraband, especially in an institution like a prison. A dog can come into a cell and indicate where officers should concentrate their efforts, he said. “Sometimes it can be too much for one or two officers to go through on their own. It could take hours to search one cell while I dog can come in and pinpoint an area in seconds.”

A dog’s nose is very powerful, Sgt. Chamberlin explained.

“Dogs have an amazing ability to use their noses. Like we use our eyes to map a room, dogs use their noses,” said Sgt. Chamberlin. “There’s passive alerts and active alerts. An active alert is when the dog will scratch and bark to indicate he’s found something. … When we (as humans) walk into a room, we smell chocolate cake. … A dog smells the flour, cocoa, eggs, sugar and milk.”

While it’s a job for the officers, for the dogs, it’s like playtime.

“Our work is their play. By the time these guys get home after (a day) of searching, they eat and sleep,” Officer Jacquinot said.

Officer Myra Guzman, who works at California Correctional Center in Susanville, is due to graduate the K-9 academy to become a handler. She’s been with the department for five years.

“I work in Susanville. It’s cold and it snows. I don’t like it but I love what I do,” she said. “While going through the Basic Correctional Officer Academy, I met a female K-9 handler and it intrigued me.”

She’s being assigned to a dog named Raider and she’s looking forward to starting her new gig with the Investigative Services Unit. According to Sgt. Chamberlin, there are only two female handlers out of the 70 handlers statewide. He encouraged other females to consider CDCR and the K-9 program.

Officer Guzman agreed. “One of you could be a warden of a prison,” she said. “Come on, girls.”