Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Save Our Shelters – PenPals Program

I was invited to prison yesterday. One of my clients had recommended me to the Principal of the nearby state correctional facility to teach grooming to the inmates. I went to the initial interview with a little trepidation about what I would find and how I felt about it. I was very pleasantly surprised.

This particular facility participates in the SOS-PenPals program. PenPals rescues unadoptable dogs from area pounds and shelters and places them in correctional facilities. There a select group of prisoners work with the dogs, training them, socializing them and teaching them to be good citizens and pets.

The principal at this particular facility is expanding the program to train the inmates in animal handling so that when they have served their time, they will have training for jobs in the pet care industry. They should be qualified as groomers assistants, trainers, doggie day care attendants, etc.

I got to meet both the dogs and their trainers. The dogs were happy, healthy, very well trained and obviously devoted to their handlers. The guys were very proud of their animals and took the time to introduce me to each one. I truly think that they are better trained and behaved than my own dogs.

When the dogs are brought into the program they are assigned two handlers. These handlers share a room with the dog and it is never left alone. They get two handlers so that when one is not available, the other can care for the dog. Due to regulations, dogs have to be kept on lead at all times unless they are in the exercise yard.

The dogs are well socialized and very responsive to their handlers. They use operant conditioning (clicker training) to train the dogs and you can see it in the way the dogs respond to their handlers. These are very happy dogs.

The guys were full of questions about the opportunities in the pet care industry, dog training and when I could start. They asked the type of questions that I would expect from a new class in college and it was fun to share some of my experiences with them and to talk about the methods that they use in training.

Ann Cavan, the principal at the facility’s school and the originator of the animal handler program said that there have been unforeseen benefits for the inmates as they learn to relate and train the dogs. She is excited about giving them the opportunity to choose a career in the pet care field.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit to prison. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? I am looking forward to working with them and feel like I am giving back to not only the dogs but also the men who have paid for their crimes and only want another opportunity to succeed. I hope that they find it out there.

I hope that if you are considering donating to an animal welfare organization, that you will consider SOS-Pet Pals. They are quietly going about the business of not only saving pets but also of helping the inmates. You can read more about it on their website.

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