Meet Corrections employee, Jersey.
She’s one of four canines employed by the Correctional Services Division to search for any drugs that may enter Alberta’s eight correctional and remand centres. These canine units play an important role in securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of staff and inmates.
Unlike some working dogs, Jersey’s career in Corrections wasn’t pre-planned. She wasn’t bred specifically for being a detector dog. In fact, she was a four-year-old family pet with some obvious hunting skills. That is, until she was evaluated by the Calgary Police Service (CPS) K9 Unit in February 2014 as having the temperament and the right stuff for drug detection work. This is where she was partnered with Jen Chiola, a 19-year veteran Correctional Peace Officer. Together, they underwent an intensive five-week training program to become certified as the drug detection team for the Calgary region Correctional Services Division.
Although Jersey didn’t have much of a “ball drive” initially – that’s trade lingo for showing little interest in drug detection work – she had an intense desire to please her new boss. That loyalty is what makes Jen and Jersey such an effective team.
For a time, Jen was the only person to interact with Jersey. She was kennelled separately during training and when Jen took her home, Jersey was kennelled and kept separate from Jen’s other dogs. You’re probably thinking this sounds harsh, but there’s a reason.
“I had to re-teach her that the most fun part of her day was going to work,” says Jen of the training process. Which is why you won’t find toys waiting at home for Jersey. Her reward is at work.
Jen and Jersey schedule searches based on operational needs at the three Calgary region correctional facilities, with other days set aside during the month for training independently or with partnering K9 agencies within the province. When she’s on the job, Jersey searches for drug odours on inmates, cells, common living areas and property of the facilities. When she detects a drug scent, Jersey communicates the find to Jen by sitting and staring at the source. And her reward for making the find? A simple ball on a string and a short game of tug with her partner.
Jen likens Jersey to a person: “She has good and bad days.” She says it’s taken approximately a year to learn to read Jersey and she learns more each day. Jen adds that she’s fortunate their bond was almost immediate. “My mood, whether negative or positive, is communicated directly down the leash to Jersey.” Likewise, Jen can tell when Jersey is tapping out.
But this is one duo that doesn’t seem to be running out of steam any time soon. For the past year and a half, Jen and Jersey have regularly appeared at Corrections, community and elementary school events with their colleagues, however, Jersey recently picked up a side job – volunteering.
“I wanted to seek out different areas to volunteer that I felt would make a difference,” explains Jen. So far, they have attended Chartwell Eau Claire Retirement Residence and the Red Deer Hospital Pediatric Unit, and today, the pair were at the Calgary region Ronald McDonald House.
“After I visited the sick kids at Red Deer hospital who couldn’t go home for the holidays, I wanted to have a broader impact and share Jersey’s soft and goofy side with the kids and parents who need a boost.”
Although she’s all work when she’s on the job, Jersey loves people – her big slobbery kisses are a dead-giveaway. And what do the kids think when they meet her? Well, the smiles on these faces speak volumes, don’t you think?