Megan Goes to Prison…with Prison Dog Programs

Prison Dog Programs exquisitely mesh the profoundly deep needs to have someone listen, feel valued, train focus, open hearts, and hone personal listening and life skills. These programs rehabilitate lives on the edge and actually save lives about to be lost — for both the dogs and their inmates. I had the great privilege to go into the prisons, work with and see first hand some of the Florida Prison Dog programs at Union, Montgomery and New River Correctional Institutions. Recently, the Montgomery Correctional Center’s “New Leash On Life” graduation ceremony mesmerized a room full of journalists from outlets including NBC, the Associated Press and my radio show, “A Super Smiley Adventure,” on the Pet Life Radio network. I can attest that simply witnessing these programs can be awe inspiring and life changing.

The goal of the dog prison program is to take dogs from a shelter where their outcome is uncertain and have the inmates train them over a course of weeks to make them more adoptable. One dog is assigned to a team of inmates consisting of a trainer, groomer and handler who are with him 24 hours a day.

The dogs are socialized, groomed, played with, slept with, crated, exercised, and trained according to a very specific protocol developed by Jay King. “It takes a village” is an understatement!  The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is the governing force, the overall platform is supported by First Coast No More Homeless Pets, and the dogs are supplied by Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services. Each of these groups has a small army of people working to make this happen!

The Prison Dog adoption rate for this program is nearly 100 percent. The program’s dogs come from the beautiful state-of-the-art city shelter that does everything in its power to not euthanize adoptable animals. As a testament to their strong intentions, Jacksonville is one of a few large cities in the U.S. to have reached a 100 percent no-kill status for the first quarter of 2014. The Prison Dog program creates trained, socialized family members — resulting in cleared shelter space for another dog can come in and get a second chance at life.

The dogs in the program give the inmates even more in return. Director of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Department of Corrections, Tara Wildes, observed the “Dogs open everybody up…bringing about positive change. If you’re going to change, you have to be open.” The hands-on officer overseeing the Union “Rock Hound” Program, Officer Parrish, told me “the program helps inmates learn teamwork and improves their morale by giving them a mission-driven job with a bigger life purpose.” Inmates I spoke with told me it opened their hearts and retouched their humanity on a profound level.

Super Smiley weighs in: I wasn’t at the prison, but I was a two-time shelter dog, so I remember what it felt like to wonder if I was forgotten. Why had I been thrown away? Thank you to all who rescue dogs and to all who see the value in us and in the inmates. The inmates are using their lives behind bars to save ours. They are reaching past the prisons. They are touching families they will never meet who will receive those dogs. The dogs and the prisoners are changing lives forever.

The inmates care for every aspect of the dogs while they are in their charge. As a steward of your dog, you may want to know about some of Sergeant’s products that are created to help keep them healthy so you can celebrate your best lives together, like Sentry Medicated Shampoo with tea tree oil and oatmeal, Sentry 2 in 1 Ear Cleanser and Sentry Calming Spray.

This was a profound experience for me that left me with an even greater appreciation for the healing and teaching powers of my animals.

Would you adopt a dog through a Prison Dog program? Until next time, we are Megan Blake and Super Smiley. 🙂

 Pictured above from left to right are Dawn, Abbey and sweet smiling Hulk during their New Leash on Life prison program. They all graduated and are with their new families.

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