Paws in Prison

Shelter dogs receive six weeks of training by selected inmates

By Randal Curtman
El Dorado News-Times

EL DORADO, Ark. (AP) — Going to prison can be a good thing, especially if you are a shelter animal.

One of the unique programs the Union County Animal Protection Society participates in is the Arkansas Department of Correction’s Paws in Prison program, El Dorado News-Times reported.

“We send dogs to the Department of Correction where they are trained by inmates, and then adopted out,” Shelter Manager Tanja Jackson said. “We have dogs that are eligible for the program now that we are planning on sending off for training.”

The Paws in Prison program began in 2011, modeled after a similar program in Missouri, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction website,

“Selected inmates have the opportunity to become trainers of rescue dogs in the program,” according to the website. “Inmates work with the dogs teaching them basic obedience skills and properly socializing the animals, making them more adoptable.”

The shelter dogs receive eight weeks of training, Jackson said, and upon completion of the program, the once-stray dogs are better socialized.

“We send six dogs at a time for Paws In Prison training,” Jackson said, “and we are getting the next group together now.”

The shelter employees monitor dogs to make sure they have the temperament needed to undergo the training before sending the animals off to the program.

“This August was our third anniversary participating in program,” Jackson said.

Once the dogs complete their training, they are adopted at the end of the program, so the dogs don’t come back to UCAPS. “People all over the U.S. see the website and on graduation day families attend and the dogs go home straight from program.”

Jackson said UCAPS has sent about 100 dogs to Paws in Prison over the past three years.

Graduates from the Paws in Prison program take a 10-step test to earn the Canine Good Citizen Award, offered by the American Kennel Club.

The award, known as the gold standard for dog behavior, tests the dogs’ obedience, agility and performance, according to the website “All of the dogs in the Arkansas Paws in Prison program earn the award, and are granted a certificate and the official AKC CGC title after their names,” the website stated in an Oct. 8 article.

The benefits of this program are three-fold, according to the Department of Correction website.

“The Paws in Prison program reduces the number of animals who perish by better preparing them to be loving, obedient and adoptable pets,” the website states. “The program gives inmates the skills necessary to support successful rehabilitation and re-entry — and ultimately improves public safety.”

Thirdly, Paws in Prison is an opportunity for the inmates to do something positive for the communities of Arkansas.

Since the program began in December, 2011, the Department of Correction has seen a positive impact on daily interactions between inmates and employees, which ultimately improves security inside the prison, according to the website.

The Paws in Prison program is made possible through the department’s partnership with animal shelters and advocate groups around the state, according to the ADC website.

There is no state budget for the program.

In August 2011, a four-person team representing ADC traveled to Missouri to see first-hand how that program operates and get ideas on how to implement a successful program in Arkansas, according to the website.

The group included: Mary Parker, Board of Corrections vice chairperson, Dina Tyler, former ADC assistant director, Shea Wilson of El Dorado, former ADC Public Information Officer and Renie Rule, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences executive director of development.

Rule has been instrumental in developing Arkansas’ program and is the program’s founding patron, according to the website.

“Paws in Prison is a program near to my heart because it pairs shelter dogs with inmate trainers in the prison system and enriches the lives of all involved,” said Wilson in an email on Wednesday.

“I am proud to have been involved with the start-up of the program and am glad that UCAPS was able to become involved in providing dogs for PIP. The program continues to grow and is in the hands of some very caring and compassionate people who want success for shelter animals in need of forever homes and the inmates who will be returning to society.”

Wilson said the prison program provides the dogs and many of the inmates, who participate, a second chance at a better life when they get out.

“The skills they learn together influences them for the better. For the dogs, they learn the necessary skills to become more adoptable. And the inmates, learn all types of skills involved in training and grooming a pet,” Wilson said. “They also learn patience and responsibility. Also, they receive unconditional love, which is important for both dog and man.”

Paws in Prison is supported by private donations and the sale of recyclables.