04 October 2017

Prison Dog Training Program

Iowa City Animal Services and the Iowa Medical Classification Center have teamed up to offer a program that matches shelter dogs with inmates, who ...

what's more important to me is not what

happens inside a fence it's when they go home aren't the guys better when they go home than they are while they're sitting in here locking somebody up 24 hours a day and give them three meals and that's they go out and sin no more we'd like to believe that works but it's proven over and over it doesn't so you've got to do things that make people vested in life when they get out they know how to live life as good neighbors to somebody for nearly 20 years Jim McKinney has been a warden in correctional facilities across Iowa when he transferred to the Iowa medical classification Center two years ago he acted quickly to implement a therapy dog program you tell them AIT's how to be responsible but telling somebody and actually learning responsibility or two different things so what I did was realize that a dog is gonna teach responsibility because you got to wake up in the middle of the night take care of them you have to clean up after them you have to feed them you have to start thinking about the dog instead of always about yourself using inmates to train dogs was a concept that Animal Services supervisor Liz Ford had thought about for years so

when the prison reached out to expand its program there was zero hesitation that was the word I needed it's like there's no better time we need to make this happen with a small staff mostly made of volunteers there isn't always enough time to work with the shelter animals as much as they would like those dogs that come in that are either very fearful of people and they need practice and they need to learn how to trust people or dogs that are really rambunctious and ill-mannered and you know lots of jumping up and sort of crazy behavior those types of dogs don't really show well in the kennel environment at the animal shelter the dogs are matched with an inmate who live and work with the animal to improve manners and teach basic obedience skills when they're ready to go back to the shelter and go into a kennel and find their forever home they're more well behaved they present better they're more adoptable volunteers with the Animal Center worked with the inmates to set goals and teach them proper training techniques a lot of us just socialization social skills being able

to stay still when someone pencil being able to sit quietly and pull door being able to not lunge and jump and I mean these are things that we would expect from a pet but don't always come from the dogs that were getting in their body languages is actually pretty amazing once you're able to learn about what exactly they are telling you you have to be patient you have to take your time you have to show them love you can't just get mad at them and throw in the towel you know they don't deserve that taking part in this program is a privilege for these inmates it's a responsibility they don't take lightly these guys are committed to learning about dogs and committed to being the best dog trainers and dog handlers that they can be gives them a sense of purpose they feel good about themselves they feel like they're giving of themself many of the dogs the animal shelter takes in are neglected and abused and the process of rebuilding trust is something many inmates can relate to some of them were kind of broken when they get here and well some of the guys that get here are kind of broken as well so when you can see that

process of rehabilitation that process of changing lives one dog at a time and also one person at a time it's really amazing to be a part of something like that a lot of it comes from learning how to deal with yourself and patients and learn how to be compassionate because a lot of the dogs that we get in here now come from a lot of rough backgrounds I mean just like some people that are in here too so I mean the mash-up is it's really something unique you come from the regular prison environment to where you're you looked at every day for what you're here for and then you get to have a dog that is very it has no sense of what did you do wrong why what and you know what I mean I mean it just you get the unbiased attention from a dog the program uses reward-based training methods setting a positive environment in the facility and through the process they develop strong bonds with their animals Paisley is kind of the queen around here she's amazing at what she does every day with sybbie is goofy and fun and through that bond they learn a tough lesson they don't know what it's like to love unconditional and then have to give something up for

the better of everything there are tears there is joy though to know that how they interacted with the dog change that dog's life to where it now has a forever home these big guys they work at all the time tattoos all over them and you know you look at me like that's a tough guy and then you know they take their dog and you just see them break down to the most basic human form and I mean it it cuts you sometimes you know it really but I mean in the same point it kind of returns you to humanity and you really realize that these people are people too while only a select number of inmates get to take part in the training program others still get the benefits of having a pet around the day brightening factor that these dogs bring is amazing when you're set in a real prison and you watch guys on reception and they get out of line for the phone to get into line to pet the dog you see men that do the big tough-guy thing and they just melt they absolutely melt when they get to pet a dog the handlers work with their companions to bring light to other inmates during their darkest hours there was four or five of us going for this therapy was it and I saw this kid

sitting over by the phone and I walked over to him I said do you like dogs and he says yeah I said would you like to pet one is what can i I said yeah and after we was done and we really didn't talk anymore but he looked I mean he told me thank you and I thought okay this is what I do but you're welcome he said no really thank you he said because now I'm able to call my mom and have something positive to be able to tell her including regular visits to an inmate who has a terminal illness and here he is he's going to die in prison and he's allowing this dog and he gets up there and he just hugs her and pets her and loves on her and you could just see him for that moment being a happy guy the lessons learned through this program will help guide the inmates as they transition back into society I haven't always been the most social of people and so I think this has really forced me to interact with people on a professional level and really learn how to deal with people this program is helping not only rehabilitate dogs but it's rehabilitating the inmates the guys they're putting their hearts and

souls into it I've never seen a program work as well as a dog program it is really about second chances and it is about having faith and entrusting they're all contributing and that's making inmates better people and that's our ultimate goal in prisons it's not to keep people locked up but to make them better citizens when they go home and for the inmates the program is working most of us are here for a reason literally the idea to be able to help to be able to do something positive and healthy and good and to give back to a community for us to be a part of something like that it's pretty amazing it's been a real adventure of growth and reflection and they say hindsight's 20/20 and it's true because I mean I look back at the person I was a year ago before I joined this program and the person that I am now I mean it's like I'm actually looking at a human being I've got to work with to shelter dogs and in the one big thing for them for the dogs that we were able to send outta here is we know that we've forever changed their life and we hope I hope that the dog that we send out of here gets to change somebody else's life

like that dog did mine