Jail Dogs Program Changes Lives of Inmates and Canines
April 18, 2012
by Celeste Hawkins
Two years ago, Gwinnett County, GA, initiated one of the first jail dog programs in the nation. The program provides inmates at the local detention center with the opportunity to train dogs saved from the pound, and those involved attest to the many benefits for both human and canine. In 1981, Sister Pauline Quinn started the Prison Pet Partnership Program in the Washington State Correctional Center for Women. Quinn believed that prisoners given the opportunity to train dogs would gain self-worth and positive skills. In this original model, the prisoners trained dogs to become guides or helpers for individuals with disabilities. Since then, similar animal therapy programs have appeared throughout the U.S. and internationally in prisons as well as other settings; prison dog programs, however, have remained especially popular, though not all prepare the animals to be strictly service animals. Nearly 30 years later, Gwinnett County made history when they initiated a dog program in their county jail. Their program, Operation Second Chance, is one of the first of its kind, implementing the same methods of previous prison dog programs but in the jail setting. Essentially, Operation Second Chance – also called Jail Dogs – pairs dogs that would otherwise be euthanized with inmates who care for and train them until the animals are adopted by families in the community. Smooth operation of the program depends on the collaborative efforts of several groups. “The biggest hurdle [in implementing an effective jail dogs program] is finding a sheriff who is willing to allow his facility to be used for this program, and a rescue who is willing to step in and handle all expenses and provide the dogs,” said Deputy Nina Lee, Operation Second Chance Coordinator for the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Department. “This program works with calibration from many departments (sheriff, rescue, and shelter) and volunteers (trainers, groomers, and veterinary professionals).” Sheriff Butch Conway and the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department and The Society of Humane Friends of Georgia (SOHFOGA) partnered together to begin the Jail Dogs program in February 2010. Despite government involvement, the program is able to operate using absolutely no taxpayer dollars because of SOHFOGA’s financial support and the contribution of volunteers. “I adopted a dog from Gwinnett County last June,” said Patricia Hall, a certified trainer who volunteers with the program. “I started training at Jail Dogs that July and have continued since. I now live and breathe Jail Dogs.” Trainers like Hall visit the jail three times a week, teaching the inmates how to train dogs in basic obedience, agility, and tricks through positive reinforcement. Other animal professionals visit to teach the inmates about different issues such as pet care. “The inmates learn skills from training the dogs that they can transfer to the outside world . . . [Jail Dogs] gives them a sense of purpose, a redirection in life,” said Hall. In some cases, inmates have gone on to find employment at veterinary offices because of the training they have received through Jail Dogs. Dennis Kronenfeld, President of SOHFOGA, hopes that one day the program will also have a facility – a boarding kennel and training center – where inmates can work after they are released. “The inmates could take what they’re learning at the jail and take that to the next step and do that outside the jail and make a living at it,” said Kronenfeld. Gwinnett County Detention Center houses approximately 2700 inmates. Unfortunately, the program can only facilitate between 40- 46 inmate participants at a time, with two handlers assigned for every one dog. Additionally, only inmates with non-violent charges can participate in the program. Each inmate interested in participating must submit a request to Deputy Lee, who then conducts a criminal history check along with a medical check. In the past two years, Lee has screened approximately 1,100 inmates for the program. Five hundred have been qualified and approximately 300 have actually participated. One hundred and two dogs have been adopted from Operation Second Chance, and 16 dogs are in the program currently, with a total of 118 saved. “The program gives the dogs a second chance at life, too,” said Hall. “When they get adopted, they are fully trained, and that in turn will reduce the risk of them being brought back to a shelter.” Operation Second Chance continues to change the lives of both man and “man’s best friend,” offering positive experiences in otherwise negative situations. “When most people think of jails, we think of the negativity that is associated with that. When most people think of dogs, we think of warmth and love. When you put these two entities together, something beautiful happens,” said Deputy Lee. “Now we are changing not only one life, but many!” For more information about Gwinnett’s Jail Dogs program, visit Jaildogs.org.