Happy barks to those involved in this program!
Thanks to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman for this article.
Inmates help give unloved dogs a second chance
July 29, 2007
By Will Elliott/Frontiersman
PALMER – Alaska prison inmates are teaching abandoned dogs obedience skills they hope will give the animals a second chance at life.
Now in its second year, the program helps rehabilitate inmates while rescuing dogs, said Dave Allison, chief officer at the Mat-Su Animal Shelter. After graduation from the program, the dogs will be adoptable by the community.
Called SPOT – Shelter Pet Obedience Training – the program is a partnership between the Mat-Su Borough and the state Department of Corrections. Superintendent Dean Marshall of Hiland Mountain Correctional Center said the program was partly a tool to manage inmates.
It’s a good management tool for the institution because it is an incentive for good behavior,” he said.
Marshall also likes the reparatory aspects of the program, while Allison pointed toward its rehabilitative nature.
For inmates, the program gives them a chance to be someone other than their criminal sentence,” Allison said.
SPOT has saved 72 dogs since its inception last year. The current class of seven dogs was rescued from an abusive owner. All seven used up their allotted time at the shelter without finding new owners and were scheduled to be killed. Because of their outstanding attitude and intelligence, however, the dogs were sent to Hiland instead. Since then, the dogs have undergone more than 10 weeks of rehabilitation and professional training.
They were not in great shape when we got them,” Allison said. But they’ve made a miraculous recovery.”
The dogs will be honored at a graduation ceremony Aug. 8.
It’s almost like when you gradate from high school, but it’s for dogs,” he said.
A professional trainer worked with the inmates once a week. The dogs spent the rest of the time with their inmate companions, who were carefully screened for the program, said Hiland assistant superintendent Amy Rabeau.
It all adds up to a superlative resume for the dogs, Allison said. Around half of the dogs are sled dogs, bred for power, endurance and a friendly, intelligent nature. Allison said they would be perfect for skijoring or as hikers’ companions. Whereas husky mixes can often be shy around strangers or too rambunctious for a house, Allison said these dogs’ extensive socialization, kennel and obedience training had given them the best of both worlds. They also learn what Allison described as a multitude of tricks.
It’s quite a program they put them through,” he said. These are super wazoo dogs.”
Rabeau said the program also had a big impact on the inmates.
When someone is doing a long sentence, you don’t get to do things like pet an animal. That’s something that some haven’t done for years,” she said. While we do a lot of give-back projects, this one involves living creatures, so they really enjoy it. One inmate said, The dog was abused. I was abused. I feel like I can help her.’ That’s really sweet stuff.”
The contract between the shelter and corrections is indefinite, Allison said.
I only wished we’d have a shortage of animals to send them,” he said.