Award-winning documentary on RI State Police Canine Unit debuts Thursday


Rhode Islanders are being offered a rare behind-the-scenes view of the Rhode Island State Police Canine Unit during the local premiere of SEARCHDOG, an award-winning documentary showcasing the intensive training and commitment that goes into building successful human-canine teams. 

The documentary, produced and directed by Mary Healey Jamiel, an associate professor at the University of Rhode Island, and Elaine Rogers, a Boston-based producer and entertainment attorney, already has won awards as Best of the Fest at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Audience Award at the Boston Film Festival. It is being shown for the first time in Rhode Island during two special screenings at the Providence Place Cinemas this Thursday.  Show times are 7 and 7:30 p.m., with a special red-carpet event starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are only available online. For tickets and information visit

Created over a period of five years, SEARCHDOG spotlights the efforts of retired Rhode Island State Police Sgt. Matthew Zarrella, former head of the Canine Unit, who is internationally recognized for his efforts to transform dogs considered unadoptable from local animal shelters into successful search and rescue dogs. It also highlights some of the Canine Unit’s searches for missing people, here in the woods and waterways of Rhode Island and as far away as Vietnam, where they helped recover the remains of an Air Force captain who’d been missing since his plane was shot down in 1966.

While SEARCHDOG primarily focuses on Zarrella’s work with search and rescue dogs, the movie also provides an overview of the dedication and commitment of several other current and former members of the Rhode Island State Police Canine Unit, which has played a vital role in patrol work and criminal investigations in Rhode Island and throughout the region for more than 80 years.

“Pretty much not a day goes by that you don’t need to use one for a narcotics search, or a suspect who runs away, or to find someone who’s gone missing – we’re constantly being called,” says Corporal Scott Carlsten, Canine Coordinator, who’s responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Canine Unit.  The unit includes 17 teams of dogs and handlers. The dogs include German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labrador retrievers and two mixed breed dogs rescued from local shelters. Each is trained in general patrol work, as well as a specific discipline: five are trained to detect explosives; three search for missing people and cadavers; seven track narcotics; one identifies accelerants used in arson; and one is used to locate electronic media devices used in computers, tablets, cell phones and other equipment.

The Canine Unit has already responded to nearly 400 calls this year, Corporal Carlsten said. These range from searching for hidden computer drives and media cards in child pornography investigations to helping the Massachusetts State Police sweep Gillette Stadium for bombs before every home game of the New England Patriots and the streets of Boston prior to the Boston Marathon. 

The Canine Unit also has been instrumental in several major cases this year, including: Finding the body of a Fall River woman buried about seven feet below ground at a Cranston residence four days after she had been reported missing; Locating a suicidal young man who was found semi-conscious in the woods of Glocester, more than two days after his family had reported him missing; Discovering more than five kilograms of cocaine hidden in a secret compartment under the seats of a car that had been stopped in West Warwick for several traffic violations; Identifying traces of narcotics on nearly $169,000 cash found in the trunk of a vehicle involved in a crash in Providence; and detecting 3.3 kilograms of cocaine wrapped in a birthday gift box that had been seized by U.S. Postal Service inspectors in Providence.


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