Mr. Handsome continues his mission of being the voice of all animals.
Recently, I've been doing some research on inmates of correctional facilities training dogs. Some are taught basic skills such as come, sit, stay, and walking loosely on a leash. Some go a step further and pass a Canine Good Citizen test. This is a test of a dogs ability to be placed in different situations and to remain under control of the handler. There are also programs that are training them to become service dogs for the blind, hearing impaired, post traumatic stress veterans, and even medical alert dogs.
Any breed of dog is used and most of these dogs have been living behind bars at a shelter awaiting adoption. Most dogs, if the owner wants to admit or not, end up in a shelter due to behavior issues. I'm referring to the jumpers, the runners, the cat chasers, the chewers, the counter surfers and the garbage diggers. These are issues each and every dog can get if they are allowed.
The shelter teams up with a correctional facility where inmates can apply to be a part of the program. The inmate cannot have a history of child, dependent, or animal abuse or neglect, no misconduct in the past year, have a high school diploma or GED, and be at least 2 years from any possible release. They undergo classroom training, complete tests, and possibly do a research paper before being introduced to the dog.
The dog may have up to 3 different handlers, the 2 cellmates act as primary and secondary trainers and another inmate giving the dog some extra exercise and socialization. The dog is with one of the three at all times.
Representatives from the shelter and a dog trainer visit with the handlers and their dogs once each week to assess progress and assist with any unwanted behaviors. Prisoners must keep a journal detailing the dogs temperament, likes and dislikes.
Once the program is completed, anywhere from 8 weeks to a year, the dog is adopted or they may go on for more specific training as is the case with the service dogs.
I see this as such a win/win venture. Obviously the dog is learning skills that will make him not only more adoptable, but more likely to stay in the home because he has good manners. Many of the dogs have previously been deemed unadoptable and scheduled for euthanasia.
The inmates probably gain just as much if not more from the experience. Many go on to become dog trainers, groomers, kennel assistants, etc. when they are released making them productive citizens in our communities.
I truly believe dogs have healing powers for your mind and soul. They show no judgment to the prisoners, look to the prisoner for guidance, and greet them with affection. Many prisons that have a program like this in place have seen dramatic improvements in attitudes and cooperation of the inmates. The disputes and disruptions have ceased and a much calmer atmosphere exists. These dogs are teaching responsibility, compassion, and consistency.
I did visit with Sheriff Krukow about this program, and because most inmates of the Clay County Jail have an average stay of 3 days, the program would need to be reworked a bit. However, he is aware of the positive outcomes the program can have and is interested.
Dogs and people behind bars can be rehabilitated and go on to become assets to our communities.