The 19-month-old Labrador retriever mix is the first K-9 officer in the 60-year history of the rural Tracy prison.
Her task is to sniff out illegal drugs hidden inside the prison, as well as on prisoners and people in the visitors center, under the direction of Lt. Clinton Hays, commander of the new K-9 unit.
“We expect big things from her,” Hays said. “We recognize drugs in prison are a major issue. She will be able to do things a human corrections officer can’t do.”
Molly’s handler is correctional officer Robert Willox, who was the first to raise his hand when Hays asked for volunteers. Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation proposed stationing a police dog at DVI in late June.
Willox already has a Labrador and two Boston terriers he shares with his wife and children. Molly, who goes home with him each night, has been welcomed into the family.
“It’s been a blast,” Willox said during a Sept. 27 training session with Molly outside the prison. “I thought I had the best job at DVI as an investigator, and now I know I have the best job.”
Molly was given to prison officials on Aug. 7 by a Vacaville family that could no longer keep her as a pet.
Willox said he remains in touch with Molly’s former family through texts and online. He said her high energy and eagerness to learn made her a perfect K-9 candidate.
Molly is considered a passive K-9 officer, which means she will not be used for crowd control or aggressive restraint of prisoners. Instead, she will be asked to find drugs inside DVI, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and crack cocaine.
To demonstrate her abilities, Willox hid a small plastic container of 2 grams of marijuana in various places outside the prison on Sept. 27, including the exterior of two vehicles.
Within minutes, following a scent that funnels into a cone-shaped space in the canine airstream, she found the container.
Willox said Molly’s head snaps to attention when she gets a whiff of the drug. She stares first at the hiding spot, then back at Willox, wagging her tail.
Her reward comes in a matter of seconds — a yellow tennis ball.
“It’s all play driven,” Willox said. “They want to play, and they know they get to play when they find drugs.”
Although Molly is the first of her kind to work at DVI, Willox said he had heard stories of officers searching cells for contraband for hours and finding nothing until a drug-sniffing dog was called in.
He said the desire to search for things is in Molly’s DNA as part of her Labrador heritage.
“They look with their nose,” Willox said. “Every day, she can’t get enough of it. She is going to be a huge asset.”
Willox and Molly are taking part in a five-week training program in Galt before taking up their duties at DVI.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.