2012-08-09 / Front Page

BEHIND THE BARS

Program allows area Prisoners to train shelter dogs

MDOC photos
Select prisoners from the Alger Correctional Facility have spent the last year taking part in a unique animal shelter program. With the assistance of volunteers from the Eva Burrell Animal Shelter, approved prisoners are able to participate in a dog training program. Dogs are brought from the shelter to live temporarily within the prison until they are trained and ready for adoption. Above, prisoners work in the “yard” during one training session. At right, one prisoner takes time to reward his assigned dog with a quick pat.MDOC photos Select prisoners from the Alger Correctional Facility have spent the last year taking part in a unique animal shelter program. With the assistance of volunteers from the Eva Burrell Animal Shelter, approved prisoners are able to participate in a dog training program. Dogs are brought from the shelter to live temporarily within the prison until they are trained and ready for adoption. Above, prisoners work in the “yard” during one training session. At right, one prisoner takes time to reward his assigned dog with a quick pat.

MUNISING – Looking for a dog training facility? How about a medium security prison? While it may seem like an outlandish idea, volunteers from the Eva Burrell Animal Shelter, along with staff and inmates from the Alger Correctional Facility, have spent over a year bringing the concept to fruition – and making it a success.

According to Warden Catherine Bauman, who also serves on the shelter’s board, the idea was pitched during a meeting, after other members had heard about similar programs across the nation. Despite a comparable program at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in downstate Michigan, Bauman noted that this facility was a Level 2, lower than their Level 4 prison.

“This is … the first type of program in the state at this level,” she said.

After receiving approval from the state, the prison began bringing shelter volunteers on site to conduct a presentation program in September 2011. Volunteers started by holding various learning sessions with groups of prisoners. From there, Bauman said the prison and shelter decided to branch off and actually have a dog training program to help shelter animals.


“It was a lot of work on the part of staff,” she said. “Not everybody’s in favor of it, because you are bringing animals into a prison – that’s the reality of it. But, slowly and gradually, it became the norm.”

Before bringing in the first set of animals, Bauman said volunteers and prison staff ruled out the possibility of allowing cats, due to allergies. Next, the staff screened prisoners who had signed up to be involved in the program.

“It’s a pretty tight screening process, and everybody (staff) that screens has to agree that the prisoner can have a dog,” she said.

Inmates involved in the program cannot have any history of criminal sexual conduct, animal cruelty, domestic violence, child endangerment or any type of sexual behavior inside of a facility, among other requirements.

“We’ve had prisoners, when we first put the sign-up up, cry just to sign up,” Bauman said. “Some hadn’t touched an animal in 20 years.”

Staff and shelter volunteers also traveled to the Lakeland facility to tour its program. In fact, a Lakeland inmate eventually transferred briefly to Alger to train the first round of prisoners involved in the program.

After participating in the presentation program, which teaches proper discipline, handling and training techniques, prisoners welcomed their first round of dogs: Molly, Murphy and Freda. There are two prisoners to each dog, explained Bauman, and the dog has a kennel, food and water in the cell the prisoners share.

“It’s free for the facility,” she said. “The food, everything, is covered by the animal shelter.”

The prisoners, however, are paid for their training efforts, she added.

“It’s a lot of responsibility, it’s a 24 hour assignment,” Bauman explained.

Once the program officially commenced, Bauman said its success was readily apparent. In an unprecedented eight weeks, the prisoners trained all three dogs, opening them up to adoption.

“They were trained so well, so quickly,” Bauman said. “The effect on the prisoners – we’ve had some serious prisoners who have just totally broken away from inmate behavior, so to speak, and have really come around to show some responsibility and some kindness.”

Carol Eiseman, recreation director at the facility, noted the prisoners aren’t the only ones coming away from the program changed.

“When they leave, I see an absolute difference in the dogs,” she said. “They’re more friendly, they’re more controllable, and they’re well trained.”

The dogs were so well trained, that they were all adopted by staff who had witnessed their transformation, Bauman said. Since the first dogs found their new homes, she explained the program has worked out any “bumps” and become even better.

She also noted the prison has now been split into Level 4 and Level 2 units, and all future dogs will be located in the Level 2 portion.

Patti Newby, shelter director, explained that, even with only three dogs through the program, its potential is clear.

“No matter how good of a shelter you run, we are reliant on volunteers, and there are inconsistencies, and so there are dogs that fall between the cracks,” she said. “If we can find people who are able to do more consistent training, then there are dogs that we are going to be able to save.”

Volunteers participating in the program donate their time, mileage and gas to bring their knowledge and assistance to the facility, she said, something none have complained about. The same can be said for the staff at the prison, she added.

“It is extra work for all the people involved here, and for them to step up and say, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ … that was so exciting,” she said. “When you can find people in this line of work who go above and beyond their job and can believe in the program and find compassion, I just think that it’s really a phenomenal sell.”

As far as any apprehension the public may have in regard to adopting a dog that has spent time with prisoners, in a prison, Newby is quick to the defensive.

“It’s our job to help enlighten them. It’s our job to educate them, because wherever there’s ignorance, Golfit’sTournamentjust a matterNewspaperof education,” she explained. “The dogs that go through these programs – they’re absolutely one step above what most shelter dogs are. It’s just phenomenal.”

The program even has the potential to expand and save even more dogs that wouldn’t have a chance otherwise, said Newby.

“We are really excited, because there are dogs, not only at our shelter, but as this gets bigger and bigger, there are going to be dogs across the U.P. that are going to be given a chance,” she said. “These are dogs that we can take into society and say, ‘Look at what these people have done’.”

Not every dog that comes into the shelter will be sent into the prison training program, explained

Newby, since the dog, prisoners, and staff have to be safe. The dogs that do come through the program are treated as individuals, and there is no set time limit for training, she added.

“That’s the beauty of this program; it’s not going to be training a circus dog, it’s going to be meeting the needs of every dog,” Newby said. “It’s not going to be set in stone.”

Once the dogs are deemed safe and ready to enter the community, they will be placed on the shelter’s website for adoption. The dogs do not re-enter the shelter, which eases a burden on the volunteers, who currently have approximately nine dogs in the building.

Currently, there are four more dogs in the prisoner training program: Trace, Stubs, Doc, and Grace, all from the same litter. The prisoners in charge of each dog can never leave them unattended, since prison staff is not responsible for the dogs.

According to Newby, the prisoners only use positive reinforcement, using treats to bait the dogs, and treating mistakes as an “oops, try again” scenario. The dogs will switch between the trainers to prevent bonding with one person, she said. This will make transition after adoption easier for both the dog and adopter.

“It’s been a positive experience,” said one prisoner, as he leaned to pet his dog. “I did it out on the streets, but the way we did it out there is a little bit different then the way we train the dogs in here.”

Using books and training tips from the shelter volunteers, the prisoners agree that the experience has given them a different perspective on dogs.

“Some of the stuff you learn out of the books, you never knew out there, no matter how long you had the dog,” another trainer said.

“Recognizing some of the different things that they do and go through, some of the stress factors

… you don’t really know that out Ad:there.LayoutBut, in2 here,8/1/you2012got time11:29 AM Page around HoholikPAID1 to be them more and read Milwaukee; EnterprisesFOR BY THEInc;SCHOOLCRAFTE53950;4x7(b1) COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY and understand what they’re going through and see it firsthand.”

Prisoners make mattresses for the dogs, and use a separate shower room in their unit to wash and care for the dogs. An area within the “yard” is used for outdoor training, and another fenced off area is used for “off-leash” time, to allow dogs an opportunity to run and play freely.

Patience is key in order to ensure the dog’s success, one prisoner added.

“You have to show the dog a lot of attention, that’s for sure. It’s like raising a baby,” he explained. “But they come along good, especially when they get to know you. You just have to recognize their dislikes.”

Recognizing like and dislikes, the progress made in training, and the dog’s daily routine, is outlined in weekly reports completed by the prisoners. These reports, as well as any other paperwork regarding each dog will eventually be given to the person who is adopting.

While the impact on the dogs is evident after just six days into the program, prisoners note changes in their own behavior as well.

“It gave me a lot more patience,” one trainer said. “It keeps me focused on the goal at hand – training dogs and training the new guys that are coming in (to the program).”

This sentiment was echoed by many of the prisoners participating in the training program the day of the interview.

“This is something I would like to take out there to society,” explained another prisoner. “It’s a good experience. It’s a good job also.

Where the dogs come from – they’ve been rescued from the street, so, to be around an environment like this, some of these dogs have never been around this many people,” he added. “To learn as quick as they do, it’s good thing. It’s a good program.”

Bauman noted the facility has approached another animal shelter in Alger County to participate in the program, and that they are on board. This, she said, would ensure the continuation of and education on such a beneficial program.

“It helps socialize the animals, and it actually helped with the prisoners,” she said. “We noticed a change with the prisoners. We made it so that’s it’s actually an honor just to go over to the gym for an hour just to be able to pet a dog.

It was an emotional impact,” she added. “It just brought some positive things for the animals and for them.”

For more information on the training program, or to adopt a shelter animal, contact the Eva Burrell Animal Shelter at 341-1000 or visit www.upebas.org.

They (the dogs) were trained so well, so quickly ... The effect on the prisoners – we’ve had some serious prisoners who have just totally broken away from inmate behavior, so to speak, and have really come around to show some responsibility and some kindness.

– Catherine Bauman Alger Correctional Facility warden

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