ANIMAL PROGRAMS HELPING THE INCARCERATED
Across the country, prisons and animal shelters are forming partnerships which allow inmates the opportunity to train dogs with behavior problems. These types of programs are thought to mutually benefit both as inmates develop rescues into desirable dogs for adoption. Animals considered for these programs are those that have a lesser chance of placement because they are labeled troublesome. These are the dogs that struggle to get adopted because they are unruly and hard to work with. Many come from high-kill shelters and would likely be euthanized if not for this second chance to turn things around. Animals which are accepted into the program usually take up residence in the prison facility and are with their inmate trainer 24/7. The inmate is handles the dog and is responsible for its every day training and care. Dogs which complete the program are evaluated and must pass certain criteria before they can be considered for adoption. All are .crate and house trained, and have been taught the basics in obedience training. All dogs must learn basic commands such as sit, stay, down, heel, no and leave it. The dogs are also leash trained. Most programs make sure the animals are up-to-date on all vaccines, spayed/neutered, tested negative for heartworms and are micro-chipped. They leave the facility well behaved, with a clean bill of health. Inmates who wish to participate must also pass certain criteria before they are accepted in to the program. They must partake in formal obedience and dog handling classes. They must have a record of good behavior for at least one year prior to being considered for the program. Inmates who are lucky to participate do well while working in the program. They gain confidence, learn better social skills, work on problem solving, and learn to exhibit better discipline and self-control. More correctional facilities are showing an interest in these programs as they see a high success rate across the country. While it may seem like a new concept, animal programs in prisons have been gaining acceptance in recent years. Using dogs for rehabilitation dates all the way back to 1925, when a veterinarian named Dr. Thomas Lane started the first prison/guide dog program in Gainesville, Florida. It was the first of its kind and it brought about many programs that we see in place today. Over time these programs have expanded to include service dog training for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines used by law enforcement officials. One of the earliest and longest running programs in existence is Puppies Behind Bars which was founded in 1997 by Gloria Gilbert Stoga. Gloria was inspired by Dr. Lanes prison/guide dog program so much that she founded Pups Behind Bars. Gloria’s Pups Behind Bars program still thrives twenty years later and is one of the top rated programs today. Today there are more than 290 correctional facilities across the United States that implement these types of training programs. The details of each program differ but most follow the same basic guidelines. Most programs are sixteen weeks in length and the dogs live onsite in the prison with their trainer. The inmates are responsible for walking, feeding and caring for their dogs. The psychological benefits of working with animals is said to build confidence, increase accountability, and enhance communication skills in inmates resulting in better relations with other inmates, including staff. Many correctional facilities for women are now using similar programs to teach incarcerated mothers patience and better parenting skills. The skills learned from these programs help inmates succeed once they re-enter into society. Studies have shown those who participate in these programs were less likely to repeat offend and return to prison after their release. Most programs issue a certificate upon completion of the program which inmates use to attain jobs. As inmates leave the facility many pursue careers in similar fields using the skills they have acquired. Prisons which offer these programs to their inmates report less depression among inmates, a decrease in inmate aggression, and fewer incidents of violence among inmates. When asked for feedback from those who participated in these programs, many said it changed their attitudes, helped them manage their anger, and taught them to be patient. A high percentage reported that it improved their quality of living. The only downside to the program is the loss the inmates feel when the training program is completed. At that time they must break the bond they have formed with the dogs which will be adopted and moved to their forever home. A strong psychological attachment can be made when inmates and animals bond as they work together to overcome obstacles and share feelings of accomplishment. Eventually when they do separate, they experience a temporary feeling of loss.
If you would like to read more about these programs or offer your support I have listed some programs below. The programs listed here are not just for dogs. Some involve working with cats, horses, and wildlife.
PUPPIES BEHIND BARS
AMERICAS VET DOGS
THE PRISON PET PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
KSR CAMP K-9
LARCH CAT ADOPTION PROGRAM
WILD HORSE INMATE PROGRAM (WHIP)
DAWGS IN PRISON
THE CANINE PERFORMANCE SCIENCES PROGRAM
NEW ENGLAND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
PUPPIES BEHIND BARS
Your comments are welcome!