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Prison Pet Partnership: Dogs and Inmates Helping Each Other


I recently blogged about this year’s CNN hero Pen Farthing and his efforts to help the strays of Afghanistan, and to reunite servicemen with the animals they adopted while in Afghanistan. Motivated by his heroic work, I decided to blog once a month about inspiring animal organizations. As a shelter vet, I often encounter amazing people and organizations dedicated to helping animals. This month I want to spotlight the Prison Pet Partnership in Gig Harbor, Washington.

What is prison pet partnership?
According to their website, Prison Pet Partnership was founded in 1981 by Sister Pauline—a Dominican nun, and Dr. Leo Bustad—the former dean of the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The founders both believed that the human-animal bond could help rehabilitate inmates. The program was started within the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) with the goal of teaching inmates valuable skills, such as grooming, animal training and preparing dogs to become service dogs. Since its inception, the Prison Pet Partnership has worked with over 700 dogs, training them to be service, therapy or seizure dogs, as well as well-trained family pets. The Prison Pet Partnership not only helps rescue animals from shelters and rescue groups, but also helps inmates gain practical skills to help them find a job after they serve their sentence. The inmates gain a temporary companion that gives them unconditional love, teaches them about responsibility and gives them a sense of accomplishment when their animals graduate to become service animals or someone’s beloved pet.

Prison Pet Partnership operates a kennel and grooming facility within the Washington Corrections Center for Women. The inmates learn to groom and board dogs and cats at the facility and ultimately become licensed pet groomers.

Inmates also learn how to train service dogs. During the intense training period, the dogs stay with the inmates and develop a strong bond with their trainers while offering their companionship. The requirements for becoming a service dog are rigorous and some dogs don’t meet those standards. However, since they are well trained, they make outstanding pets and are adopted by loving families. Prison Pet Partnership is a win-win proposition: the rescued animals are winners, the deserving recipients of the service animals are winners and the inmates who gain companionship—while training their animals and developing valuable work skills—are winners. Ultimately, the communities that the rehabilitated inmates return to are winners too.

To find out more about this amazing organization that helps animals, people with disabilities and incarcerated women, click here.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


“Prison Dogs”: Good for the Community, Pups, and Inmates

Many of us are familiar with community-driven pet programs like the police department K9 units, service guide dog organizations and non-profits that bring therapy pets to nursing homes and children’s hospitals. What may surprise you to hear is that many prisons have established successful pet programs as well, and some of them are involved with training those very dogs you see working.

While programs vary from prison to prison, one of the primary goals is to rehabilitate and train shelter dogs to improve the pup’s chances of being adopted into a forever home. Then, other programs train service dogs to be used by government agencies, private security firms or in-need owners. All the programs help the dogs (some are pulled from euthanasia lists) and their future humans however , one of the most heartfelt consequences is that it also helps the prisoners.

How Prison Pups Improve Inmate Morale

Those of us who have interacted with a dog can attest to their ability to bring us joy, and a study published by Miho Nagasawa at Japan’s Azabu University in 2009 proved that hanging out with a pup can increase levels of oxytocin (often dubbed “the feel-good hormone”). HABRI, the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, has also concluded in studies that there is a “pet effect” on depression: those who engage regularly with pets show increased confidence, more sense of purpose and an overall better picture of health than ever before.

From there, we can easily see “the pet effect” on incarcerated individuals. A study using subjects from two Kansas prisons assessed the effects of inmates training assistance dogs in correctional facilities. They discovered increased inmate morale and reduced recidivism. “Many of [the prisoners] we interviewed believed that the strongest positive they receive from the program is the change it affects in their attitudes and emotions,” the researchers stated. “For these men, the dogs are truly therapeutic. Participants believe that the dogs help them to deal with anger, teach them patience, give them unconditional love and simply make doing time a little easier.”

The Prison Pet Partnership (PPP), established in 1990, has found the same results. “At PPP, we train service, therapy and companion dogs. Our service dogs are primarily purpose-bred dogs from other service dog programs, but the dogs we rescue can also go on up through the training to become service dogs. The majority of the rescue dogs don’t have the temperament to be service or therapy dogs, but are placed as companion pets or ‘Paroled Pets,’ as we call them,” said PPP’s Executive Director Beth Rivard.

She added, “The inmates say that the dogs really help to keep the stress level down, and that the dogs are a big distraction to the everyday life in prison. Some women have said that by training dogs, this is a way that they can give back to the community that they have taken so much from.”

At the end of their prison training programs, the fully trained prison dogs are either put up for adoption to the general public, or utilized as service dogs.

For example, The New York Times covered the story of a yellow Labrador retriever named Opelika (named after the Alabama city she both lives and is trained in), who was part of the Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University. Each dog in the program undergoes their own year-long training period. Six months of Opelika’s coaching occurred in a state prison, “where inmates who have earned the right to work with the program’s dogs lavish time and attention on them to hone their detection skills and reinforce basic socialization.” Upon completion, Opelika would be “placed with a government agency, or private security firm, to sniff out bombs, narcotics or other threats.”

This, of course, is just one example of thousands. To get more of an inside look at how prison dogs positively impact the lives of inmates, pups and the community, tune into the Prison Dogs documentary. Filmed in New York at the Fishkill State Correctional Facility, it follows the Puppies Behind Bars program, “which teaches a select group of inmates to train puppies to become service dogs for disabled veterans, whether suffering from PTSD or physical injuries that render them immobile,” as well as for law enforcement. Grab the kleenex!

At Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, we believe in the power of pets. Through the Healthy Paws Foundation, we support organizations like HABRI and rescue nonprofits, making huge leaps to show how important pets are to our well-being. And with every free quote for pet insurance, we make a donation towards a homeless pet’s medical care.


Summary of the Problem

The main problem that dog-training programs (DTPs) address is the problem of recidivism. In a longitudinal study of inmates released in 2005, Durose, Cooper, and Snyder (2014) found that 56.7% of all 404,638 state prisoners released in 30 states were arrested within the first year of release, 67.8% were arrested within 3 years, and 76.6% were arrested within 5 years. Specific objectives vary from program-to-program however, they typically try to reduce recidivism through relatively basic methods. These methods include increasing social-bonds through the intensity of the training program increasing social skills by having the prisoner trainers work with others teaching them skills and responsibility that increase their employability through learning and committing to training their puppies and by providing the prisoners with a source of unconditional love that they may have never experienced. These objectives are achieved during the training process of the puppies, typically a 12-18 month duration. They are driven by both theory and existing research. Existing research shows that dogs have the ability to have great physical and emotional impacts on their people (Wells, 2007). There are various criminological theories and concepts behind the reasons DTPs are implemented.


Prison Dog Programs – How One Little Idea Makes a Big Difference

Last updated on January 15, 2016 By Puppy Leaks 11 Comments

There’s no denying that the canine-human bond is quite special, and sometimes it has the ability to help serve the community as a whole.

Working In Corrections Or Animal Rescue Is Stressful

When I think of those that work in the corrections field or animal rescue one word always comes to mind – stress. These are some special people who work with inmates and shelter pets – people that make a difference without being bogged down by the stressful and depressing things they see and hear every single day.

And when people from these two seemingly unrelated fields get together and create a program that helps inmates & shelter pets it’s nothing short of amazing.

Prison Dog Programs Benefit The Whole Community

Now if you’re like me and watch all those documentaries (like Castaways or Dogs On The Inside on Netflix) about prison dog programs you probably don’t need an explanation of how beneficial they are – it’s apparent immediately. And it’s not just anecdotal according to studies on prison dog programs from 2007 & 2009 that found:

Statistically significant improvements have been found in the areas of social skills and social sensitivity, social competences with problem solving, and communication abilities. Statistically significant decreases were found in feelings of isolation and loneliness when compared to a control group. – Portland State University

Prison dog programs have also been shown to lower recidivism rates. For one prison in particular the recidivism rate was 11% for those that participated in prison dog programs & 68% for those that didn’t.

These intervention programs benefit more than just the the handler and the dog, they help the community. The dogs are learning good manners, gaining confidence, becoming more adoptable and in some programs being specially trained to be future leader dogs. The handlers gain patience, learn a new set of skills, and gain a great level of empathy and compassion.

The human-animal bond is quite powerful, and programs like these are further proof how beneficial that bond can be.

Teacher’s Pet pairs at risk youth with shelter dogs

Pairing At Risk Youth With Shelter Dogs = Awesome

When it was time for blog the change (#BTC4A) I was thrilled to shine the spotlight on one of my favorite local programs called Teacher’s Pet. They’re an intervention program that pairs at risk youth with less adoptable shelter dogs for a 10 week training program.

Teacher’s Pet is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that pairs hard to adopt rescue dogs with at-risk youth for a 10-week tra ining session. Student trainers work with the dogs on basic obedience commands in order to make them more adoptable so we can place them into permanent, loving homes while the trainers themselves mature in a kind and compassionate manner. – Teacher’s Pet

And to think the program started by a couple of friends 10 years ago should be truly inspiring for all of us who are looking to make a change. They’ve made a huge impact not just on the lives of shelter dogs, but on our whole community, and it all started with one idea.

Teacher’s Pet: Dogs & Kids Learning Together

Since it’s founding in 2005 Teacher’s Pet has been pairing at risk youth in southeast Michigan with hard to adopt shelter dogs for a 10 week training program. The dogs are all trained with positive reinforcement methods that help them gain confidence and learn to trust people again. And the young handlers are able to experience compassion, gain patience, and learn a new set of skills.

Sometimes, troubled kids have a difficult time relating to adults. Dogs seem to have a way of crossing that boundary. They’re non-judgmental, loving, and when you’re kind to a dog, that dog is kind to you.” – Teacher’s Pet founder Amy Johnson told C & G News

These intervention programs are powerful, and the benefits stretch out through the community. The youth are empowered by being given a chance to see a positive change in the world, and the dogs get a second chance to find their forever homes. It’s a win win for both sides, and an amazing way to make a difference in so many lives.

10 years ago Teacher’s Pet was just an idea, and luckily for us in the metro Detroit area founder Amy Johnson took action. We can each make a difference in the lives of others, and it all starts with one little idea – what happens next is up to you.

One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something. – Henry David Thoreau

Blog the change is a quarterly event where we take a day to spotlight those that are helping make a difference in animal welfare. Join in with hosts Cindy Lu’s Muse & Talking Dogs and share your favorite animal welfare worker or organization. Together we can blog the change.


Prison Dog Training Programs: An Inside Look

I went to prison a few years ago – invited to speak to the participants in Pixie’s Pen Pals dog training program at the Lunenburg Correctional Center in Victoria, Virginia. I was a little nervous, but I needn’t have been: The trainers for the program were professional and capable, the prison staff was welcoming and supportive, and the men in the program were friendly, attentive, and eager to share their experiences and show me their dogs. And the dogs, of course, were wonderful.

I left the prison that day with tears in my eyes and a renewed faith in humans, thinking I should write an article about the redeeming power of interspecies partnerships. Other articles were on the agenda, though, and the impetus for the article faded.

I was at a dog training conference last fall when I bumped into Katie Locks, one of the lead trainers from the Pen Pals program. She reintroduced herself to me, and then asked if I remembered the man sitting next to her. I must have looked blank, because she grinned a little when she introduced me to Rob, one of the now-graduated, former-inmate participants who now works professionally as a dog trainer! After a bit of a conversation, I was much impressed by this intelligent, soft-spoken, gentle man. It was the push I needed to finally write this article.

Some of my other colleagues are also involved with prison dog training programs. Brad and Lisa Waggoner, husband and wife trainers and owners of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina, have participated in a prison dog training program at the Colwell Probation and Detention Center in Blairsville, Georgia, for the past four years. Like Katie, they get a great sense of accomplishment from their work with the dogs and men in the prison dog training program they volunteer with.

Katie Locks and the Virginia Prison Dog Programs

Katie Locks is the owner of Lucky Dogs Training and More in Amelia Court House, Virginia. Since 2004, she has worked with rescues and individuals to strengthen the bond with dogs through training. She trains for the Southside SPCA as well as Lab Rescue of the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac, is a mentor trainer for Animal Behavior College, and is the lead trainer for Pixie’s Pen Pals.

Pen Pals was started in 2001, and operates at four Virginia prisons: Lunenburg Correctional Center, Buckingham Correctional Center, Deerfield Work Center, and Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. Katie oversees the programs at the first two prisons.

Pat Miller: How, when, and why did you become involved in a prison dog program?

Katie Locks: I have been working in the Virginia prisons with Pixie’s Pen Pals since October 2009. The previous director of the program (then managed by Save Our Shelters, now managed by FETCH a Cure) contacted me and asked if I would be interested in meeting with her and visiting a prison. I jumped at the opportunity to try something new and different.

Pat: Where do the dogs come from that you use in the program? What do you look for in selecting dogs for the program?

Katie: The dogs that I take in to the facilities I oversee come from Southside SPCA in Meherrin, Virginia – a small, private, nonprofit organization run by a small staff and a large network of volunteers in rural central Virginia. I work closely with the Assistant Director, Francee Schuma, and we meet and evaluate dogs regularly. We look for the dogs who are not quite ready to go to adoption events but have a lot to offer. Usually, it’s the “underdog” that I take in. There are no set criteria we are always hopeful that through patience and a little training we can turn that dog’s future around.

Pat: How are inmates selected for the program?

Katie: I do not select the human participants in the program. They are selected by the liaisons I work with at the prison, and the criteria is pretty strict. The men selected for the program have to be charge-free for two years, cannot have had any animal cruelty-related or sex offenses, and they have to be “model” inmates and be eligible for honor housing.

Once they are part of the program, they must follow the education outline and show respect for the dogs and other handlers. At that point, I have input as to their continued suitability for the program.

At Lunenburg there are generally 12 men and six dogs in the program at any given time, and at Buckingham, four men and two dogs.

Pat: Do many inmates choose to work with dogs after they are released? Do they stay in touch with you?

Katie: Some do wish to continue, either on a volunteer basis or as a career. For most guys, this has not become a career due to the time it takes to build a business or the difficulty in finding employment with facilities willing to hire them.

I have had a few over the years reach out to me for professional advice and support, and update me on their progress on the outside.

Pat: What are the goals of the program? How does it work?

Katie: It is a full-circle effect. The dogs come into the program because they need a second chance to learn new skills, and the men who train them need a second chance to develop their potential and sense of self-worth. So the goals of the program are to rehabilitate humans and dogs through a mutual system of trust.

The dogs stay with the inmates in their cells. Some facilities have one-man cells and others have two-man cells, but the ratio is two handlers per dog in all facilities.

I go to the facilities once a week to evaluate, monitor, and teach new skills to the handlers. The dogs stay in our program until they are adopted or a long-term foster can be found. The inmates stay in the program as long as they are permitted and continue to meet the criteria of the program.

The men do have ongoing course work and advance to higher skill levels upon completion of each level (i.e., beginner, secondary, and primary handler status). Each level is assigned seven to 10 books and videos which they must read/view. The inmates must write reports, take tests, and pass a skills assessment.

Pat: What do the dogs learn? What training methods are used?

Katie: The first thing the dogs must learn is to trust. Once there is a good rapport and bond with the handler, they begin to learn the basics (sit, down, wait, stay, come, leash walking, crate training, housetraining, good manners.) Once dogs are proficient at the basics, the men are allowed to teach them some fun stuff (roll over, play dead, wave).

We promote only positive training methods using incentives such as food, toys, praise, and access to fun stuff.

Pat: How are dogs placed in homes after they complete the programs? If there a waiting list for adopters? Are the dogs usually easy to place?

Katie: Dogs are posted on the FETCH a Cure website and through Petfinder, and remain in the program until adopted.

I wish there were a waiting list! Some dogs are in the program for far longer than necessary. The dogs themselves are, for the most part, fantastic, but we just don’t have adopters waiting in line.

Pat: What’s your favorite thing about the program?

Katie: I love the fact that dogs who need a little help and humans who need a little help get to help each other, sometimes without realizing the huge impact they have on each other. I have seen many men transform through this program and become responsible, caring individuals who are better able to handle life on the outside because of this program.

Pat: What do you consider your greatest success so far?

Katie: The greatest success is seeing the sense of accomplishment that these men feel when their dog is adopted by a family who is very grateful and appreciative of all their hard work and effort.

This program has changed my life and the way I view people in general. There is good in everyone if you are willing to see it.

Lisa & Brad Waggoner

Lisa Lyle Waggoner, CPDT-KA, PMCT, CSAT, and her husband Brad Waggoner, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP, are the owners of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. The Waggoners have been involved with the dog training program, “RESCUED: Saving Detainees and Dogs One Life at a Time,” at the Colwell Probation and Detention Center in Blairsville, Georgia, since it was started four years ago.

Pat: How and why did you become involved in the RESCUED program?

Waggoner prison dog training

Lisa: My dad was a psychologist in maximum security prisons when I was growing up. He had a PhD in psychology, and lobbied for using positive reinforcement vs. punishment in the rehabilitation of prisoners. There were many times he was a whistleblower, standing up against inmate beatings.

In 2004, while driving to Maryland to attend a week-long dog training instructor course at Peaceable Paws, I drove by a prison and thought of my dad’s work. It was then that I first hoped to one day be involved in a prison dog training program. When Brad and I were approached about implementing a dog training program within the Colwell Probation and Detention Center, it was easy to say “Yes!”

Pat: Where do the dogs used in the program come from?

Brad: The dogs come from two shelter partners of the program, Castoff Pet Rescue and Humane Society Mountain Shelter, both in Blairsville, Georgia. RESCUED is a 10-week program that matches a detainee with a dog in need of care and patient training.

We don’t select the dogs for the program. However, the two groups have done a nice job of selecting dogs who have only general training needs, as opposed to serious behavior issues.

Pat: How are inmates selected for the program?

Brad: The detainees are selected to participate in the program after an extensive application process that includes an essay, a thorough background check of their criminal histories, and an assessment of their institutional behavior. When the detainee has successfully completed the first part of the process, he is interviewed by a panel. After this, the board makes a decision of who will fill the vacant handler positions.

Pat: Do many inmates choose to work with dogs after they are released?

Lisa: There are only two that we know of who initially began working with dogs. One as an employee in a boarding/day care/training facility and the other as a vet assistant.

Pat: Do they stay in touch with you?

Lisa: Many do and it’s a joy to continue hearing from them via email or by staying in touch through Facebook.

Pat: What are the goals of the program?

Lisa: RESCUED is the first dog rescue program within the Georgia Department of Corrections. RESCUED teaches viable job skills that enable the men to gain employment upon re-entry into their communities. As Diane Hassett, superintendent of the facility says, “This gives them a chance of being ‘rescued’ from the revolving door of incarceration.”

The detainees are also taught useful skills and given the privilege of on-the-job training, which helps solidify their foundation as productive citizens.

In addition to positive dog training and a grooming program, the program has expanded to include a number of other programs offered by different organizations. These include a basic animal health class taught by Dr. Patti Barnes and Dr. Dwaine Zagrocki of Union County Pet Hospital, classes in pet first aid and pet CPR taught by Brad, and a variety of classes on building a resume, job search skills, problem-solving, computer skills, small business and money management, and anger management. Also, detainees can earn a certificate in grooming through a course offered by Central Georgia Technical College.

Pat: How does the program work?

Lisa: Three dogs from each shelter partner organization are selected for each 10-week RESCUED program. In June of 2012, the six men and four dogs were housed in a 216-square-foot room, which included six bunks, four dog crates, and additional dog gear. After the successful first year of the program, the Georgia Department of Corrections gave Colwell the permission to expand the program and the space it occupies. The men and the dogs now live together in a 1,100-square-foot dorm that also includes six double bunks, a bathing and a grooming area, and a library of positive dog training books, DVDs, and publications donated by dog trainers from around the United States.

The total number of men varies, though there is always a minimum of six dogs and six handlers, along with two or three mentor detainees. The mentor detainees are men who have completed the previous 10-week program and stay involved until their release date. Colwell is a minimum security and probation detention center, so the stays are much shorter than in maximum security prisons.

We spend one morning a week teaching the participants positive dog training, which includes basic family manners, agility for fun, a two-hour presentation on dog body language and canine communication, and a session on nose work, along with presentations on learning theory, pet first aid, and CPR.

Dogs usually stay in the program for the 10-week session, but if a dog isn’t adopted at the end, the dog often stays in the program until he finds his forever home, though some dogs may go back to the shelter. The two partner groups are responsible for the adoptions.

Sometimes the men in the program adopt the dogs they’ve worked with, though some of them cannot because of life situations upon their release. But finding homes for the dogs is becoming easier now that we have two new shelter partners, and the Georgia Department of Corrections has allowed the facility to have a Facebook page for the program. The Public Affairs Office is also in the midst of putting together a video about the program that will soon be released, which we anticipate will help promote adoptions.

Pat: What do you like about the program?

Lisa: The ability to see the amazing transformation in the men (as well as the dogs). We see their attitudes and their anger melt away as they begin to learn with their dogs. It’s also so incredible to see them realize that positive techniques can be applied to people, too. It’s evident to see that the program has a powerful effect on the men, as demonstrated by the comments I received after last week’s training session:

Detainee Carlton, now a mentor, says, “Mentorship wasn’t what I expected. It was harder. I’ve managed construction crews before, but it was not of this magnitude. It’s expanded my leadership abilities. I now have a different way to teach and lead people.”

Detainee McGraw offered, “It’s been a wonderful learning experience. I wasn’t looking to fall in love with a dog. I was really just looking for a way out of the other dorm, but we’ve all come together. We’ve learned more from the dogs than they have from us, especially patience. These dogs have had a hard life in the shelter and it’s amazing what you can teach them. If they can learn, then we can, too. Anything is possible.”

Detainee Fulkerson chimed in that for him, “It’s been a challenge working with the other people and a challenge for ourselves. We have to set an example. Some of us have a harder time following integrity, but we’ve learned that integrity is about doing the right thing with no one is looking. The dogs want to be loved and we want to be loved.”

And Andrew Holcomb, a former graduate who is now working as a long-haul truck driver, said to me this week via Facebook, “The RESCUED program taught me that there is more to life than myself. I actually care about more than myself now. It changed my outlook on life all together. It taught me how to love and care for others and no matter what, always do the right thing.”

For Brad and me, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

Pat: Is there anything you’d change about the program if you could?

Lisa: Not a thing. We have an amazing team of individuals involved in this program and we all believe we’re making a difference in the lives of the men and the dogs. The superintendent recently put together a proposal to convert the vacant gymnasium (which has never been used) into a new facility where more men and dogs can be in the program, as well as an adoption center where dogs can easily stay and wait for their forever homes if they’re not adopted.

Pat: What do you consider your greatest success so far?

Brad: Everyone involved in the program sees the acceptance and expansion of the program as its greatest success. To date, 74 detainees have completed the program and were released. Of those, 67 percent continue to be productive members of our society.

I’d like to tell other trainers, “If you have a chance to volunteer for such a program, jump on it!” We’re honored to be involved.

Author Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. She and her husband Paul live in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center, where Pat offers dog-training classes and courses for trainers.

Are dog licks really kisses ?

Affection: There's a pretty good chance that your dog is licking you because it loves you! It's why many people call them "kisses." Dogs show affection by licking people and sometimes even other dogs. Licking is a natural action for dogs.

Are pets worth the money ?

The fact of the matter is pets are generally worth much more than the expense of caring for them. Pets generally do not require a lot of expense. Your regular expenses may include food and preventative medications to ensure they do not suffer illness from common diseases.

Can dogs eat pickles ?

In general, pickles are not toxic to dogs. They contain some nutritional health benefits, which in theory would make giving them to your dog perfectly fine. However, they are extremely high in sodium and contain ingredients that could be potentially harmful to a dog.

Is it OK to leave dogs alone for 8 hours ?

Each dog is different, but the recommended maximum amount of time to leave your dog alone is 4-6 hours. It is not recommended that a dog is left alone for 8 hours, although many dogs would be perfectly happy to be left this amount of time.


Watch the video: These Hero Pups Are Helping Veterans and Prisoners Heal (September 2021).