Everyone makes mistakes. A rough background and stress can make people and pups react poorly in a moment or learn bad habits over time that can be hard to break. Perhaps that's why there seems to be such an affinity and even a tenderness between inmates and shelter dogs that are paired with each other in programs designed to teach both humans and animals valuable tools for living in society with improved socialization and marketable skills.
A Cultural Change in Prisons
Over and over, we see stories of inmates without hope, with nothing to live for, because they feel they had no purpose, and nothing to contribute to society. This hopelessness contributes to a rough survivalist attitude. Conversely, when these inmate/shelter-dog programs are introduced, suddenly there is a creature that the inmates are responsible for. Now a person has a partner to learn life skills to live successfully in society, and the stakes are high to ensure success for both parties.
Just as pets in the workplace are being recognized as decreasing stress and improving morale and productivity, incarceration facilities are finding that animals seem to have a healthy effect on the culture of prisons. Detention centers that have implemented these animal training programs often report fewer fights among prisoners and better morale. There is also more positive interaction between inmates and prison guards.
Many of these programs offer training to the inmates on how to treat and train animal which not only helps socialize the animals for improved adoptability, but also gives the inmates a marketable skill that can be used after release. These skills can also translate to better social skills for the inmates as well as they become mindful of what constitutes acceptable pet behaviors. These concepts are solidified as they teach dogs to achieve their Canine Good Citizen certificates. These skills can mean the difference between life and death for a dog and can make the difference in recidivism rates for offenders.
A Resource for Training Service Dogs
Some programs offer training to teach dogs how to be service dogs for those that are disabled or have invisible physical ailments such as seizures or diabetes. For example, dogs can be trained to sit on the chest of an autistic child to help calm an over-sensitized reaction. Training the dogs with these life-enhancing skills is a valuable service that inspires hope not only for an inmate, but also for people who often wait years and have to raise thousands of dollars to get a service dog. These programs are a positive, cost-effective alternative for people who many not have access to a service dog otherwise.
Prison animal programs, most involving dogs, sometimes cats, or horses are operating in at least 159 prisons in 36 states. Although some have been cut because of concerns about cost, surely the advantages are immeasurable.
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