Pup Who Grew Up In Town 'Nose' Prisons

 In News & Events

Brian Shea – Wilton Bulletin – Wilton,CT,USA – 04/15/2009

Two cell phone dogsConnecticut corrections officials are getting help from sort of a native of Wilton in their quest to find illegal cell phones in prisons — one of the four-legged variety.

Rhiana, a 22-month-old former guide dog trainee who was raised by Richard and Cora Martin of Four Winds Drive, is now on the front lines of locating cell phones that have been smuggled into prisons. Cell phones can be dangerous tools in prisons, as recent reports from all over the U.S. of inmates using them to continue illegal activities show.

Besides Connecticut, at least two other state corrections departments, Virginia and Maryland, have also trained dogs to sniff out contraband cell phones. Rhiana, who just recently took on the job, uses her nose to find cell phones. Her partner, Lt. David DeMatteo, constantly tests her by hiding cell phones in town halls, fire stations, and even bath and body products stores. When Rhiana finds the phone, she is rewarded with food in order to reinforce the behavior.

Typically, inmates are only allowed to communicate with the outside world through the mail, which is controlled by prison officials, or by using taped and monitored telephones at the facilities.

“What the cell phone does is allow them to completely bypass that entire security,” said Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Corrections.

Ms. Martin told The Bulletin that Rhiana had to leave her job as a guide dog because of three ear infections.

“They will not give a dog that could possibly have some health issues to a blind person,” said Ms. Martin of Guiding Eyes, the organization through which she raises such guide dogs. She said they had taken in Rhiana when she was eight weeks of age and she left them when she was about seven months old.

“She was a lot of fun. She fit right in with the family,” said Ms. Martin, noting that Rhiana is one of nine dogs her family has taken on for training as guide dogs.

Ms. Martin also said she was very proud of Rhiana’s accomplishments and her new job.

Lt. DeMatteo and Rhiana have spent their first couple of weeks on the job conducting random searches at the state’s prisons, sniffing out dormitories, visiting rooms, libraries and recreation facilities — wherever inmates congregate.

They haven’t found their first contraband phone yet, but Lt. DeMatteo said it’s only a matter of time.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

About the photo: Rhiana, the smaller of the two dogs, is a specially trained Labrador retriever who sniffs out cell phones in Connecticut prisons. She was raised in Wilton by Cora and Richard Martin of Four Winds Drive.