More than 500 dogs have a home, thanks to the prison inmates in the Pups N Pals program at Tomoka Correctional Institute in Florida. The prisoners train shelter dogs for two months, which gives them a much higher adoptability factor at the Halifax Humane Society in Daytona Beach.
The program, now in its eighth year, is a win for everyone involved: dogs, inmates, and the people who adopt the dogs. The prison is also part of Paws of Freedom, which trains dogs for vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. That program is in its fifth year.
Good for the Dogs
As one inmate trainer explained, “It takes shelter dogs from Halifax Humane Society, brings them n here, and we make them more adoptable so they can get a forever home.” The trainers teach basic obedience and impulse control to the dogs they’re paired with.
An official with the Humane Society pointed out that the dogs the inmates get for training aren’t always the easiest. But after going through the Pups N Pals program, “these are dogs I can see going home now.”
Many of the animals are in bad shape when dropped off at the Humane Society. Most have been abandoned, mistreated, or given up by their original owners. Some seem untrainable due to temperament problems. Others have physical difficulties, like a limp or other disability.
One example is Sprout, a tiny Pomeranian mix. The dog is deaf, so “you have to have a lot of patience … It was kind of a challenge,” according to her trainer, Henry Ortiz. He discovered quickly that she was very intelligent. She learned her commands from hand signals.
Good for the Inmates
As an inmate, Ortiz feels working the dogs is a big plus in his life. “I am glad I had her. She shows me a lot of unconditional love.”
Other inmates like the fact that working with the dogs helps them get through their prison time. Jimmy Lambert, another inmate with the program, reports he’s developed “patience, a sense of self-worth, giving back.”
Training the dogs also gives inmates job opportunities when they get out. Lambert has earned an advanced trainer’s certificate, backed by almost 10,000 hours of experience.
Prison officials say those working with the service dogs show improved self-esteem and better communication skills. The certificates they earn, which are issued by the Department of Education, give inmates genuine career prospects when they finish their sentences.
Good for the Adopters
People who want to adopt a dog love these already-trained animals. Look at Sprout, a good example of a dog given a second chance. A family looking for a pet would probably stop to take a second look at this darling white pup. And then pass her by when they found out she was deaf. The idea of successfully training her would simply be daunting., requiring too much time and expertise.
Thanks to the inmate trainer, that’s all taken care of. Sprout is house trained and knows all the basic commands. All the new owner needs to do is learn the hand signals. Sprout’s new family will have a well trained dog that fits in easily.
The Paws of Healing vets also love the program. Brian Masters, a four-year Navy vet, adopted Reese, a Chihuahua mix, trained by inmates Todd Wilson and Richard Leach. Reese will be Masters’ emotional support dog to help him with anxiety issues related to his military service.
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