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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

A New Leash on Life - Prisoners Train Dogs for Adoption

“A New Leash on Life” is a program that allows minimum and medium custody state prisons to partner with local animal shelters, animal welfare agencies, and/or private non-profit agencies to train dogs in preparation for their adoption. The program helps reduce the homeless population of dogs in North Carolina and promote adoption of unwanted animals.

In turn, the inmates are given a chance to serve the community by training dogs to be well-behaved pets and may receive certified training that will help them obtain jobs as Animal Care Providers or Vet Techs upon their release.

Selected dogs are placed with inmate trainers in a prison setting for eight to twelve weeks.  The inmates teach basic obedience, house training, and socialization through positive reinforcement and repetition.  Dogs are taught to walk on and off the leash and to respond to basic commands.

Yvonne Fehr of Carolina P.A.W.S and a volunteer trainer notes how nurturing the program is for the dogs. “These dogs usually come from situations where they didn’t learn to trust and this program teaches them trust and instills confidence in them,” she says. Every time a dog accomplishes a new task, they become more confident. They also learn how to overcome their fears as they get lots of socialization.”

Each prison facility partners with a local partner or sponsor, a volunteer animal trainer, and local merchants or civic organizations that can support the program with needed supplies and services. Since 2004, more than 800 dogs have completed the program.

Every eight weeks four new dogs are chosen for training and move into the prison where a pair of inmates are assigned to each.  The inmates are with the dogs every day from 6am to 9pm and are responsible for virtually every aspect of their lives. Trainers are required to keep notes on each dog, learn how to groom the dog, study the dogs personality and work on the dogs agility skills.

Donna Miller, New Leash On Life Coordinator for Brown Creek Correctional Institution in Polkton, NC, says the dogs give inmates a sense of accomplishment, added confidence and challenges that force them to grow in interpersonal skills. They learn lots of patience, too.

The dogs have a calming effect throughout Brown Creek Correctional as they visit on other yards for socialization, says Miller. As the inmates bond with the dogs during training sessions, they also build relationships with each other as a dog training team. Correctional employees and volunteers are dedicated to helping offenders become productive members of society.

“For us being incarcerated, the good thing about the dogs is they look at us and they don’t see ‘inmate’ or ‘crook’ or any other label someone has put on us,” says an inmate in the program. “They just see someone to love them and work with them. These dogs become our best friends.”

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