A years-old program that was suspended several years ago where inmates at Stafford Creek Correctional Center train dogs for adoption has begun again, with the current class of pups set to graduate next week.
The program, run in partnership with PAWS of Grays Harbor, is a great one for both the shelter and the prison, said the shelter’s Executive Director Anna Boeche.
“We ran it successfully for a couple of years — a very popular program,” Boeche said. “Even years after it had been disbanded, people were still eager to find a dog through that program.”
The program gives inmates a chance to take care of dogs, which might be a new experience for them, said Stafford Creek spokesperson Salina Brown.
“For some of the incarcerated handlers, having a commitment like this has been for the first time in their lives, and gives the opportunity to learn about responsibility, caring and love for another living being,” Brown said. “This is also a benefit for some of the dogs that may not have come from good circumstances and need to be taught the same.”
More than 300 dogs have graduated from the program in the past, Brown said. Inmates spend 12 weeks with the dogs, 24/7, working with trainer Adam Winston, who comes in to teach inmates how to teach their dogs basic obedience and commands.
“(Winston) goes into the prison about every other week. He works with the handlers to train them,” Boeche said. “Sometimes it’s a chance for (inmates) to show off what their dogs can do.”
For some inmates, training a dog may be a new experience, Boeche said.
“There’s folks who have never had a dog,” Boeche said. “So they’re learning too.”
At the end of the course, the dogs will be adopted out, and a new group of dogs will be partnered with the inmate trainers.
“We currently have 16 incarcerated handlers total and three incarcerated dog walkers in H3 unit which houses 272 incarcerated people,” Brown said. “Between all of the people that live in the dog unit and all of the staff that work in the unit, those dogs are getting plenty of love and attention.”
The shelter is working with the prison to make the program as efficient as possible, as they seek to find new homes for the eight freshly-trained dogs, Boeche said.
“I think that what we’re seeing is that we’re able to make this program better than last time,” Boeche said. “Several already have adopters in place. There are a couple who still need homes.”
The program only exists in SCCC’s H3 unit, but Brown says the prison intends to expand it.
“We are getting ready to start the next phase of the re-start and begin training incarcerated handlers in another housing unit,” Brown said. “This will bring on another handful of staff from the second unit and will be a slow start as to ensure the new handlers are trained and ready for their first assigned dog.”
Dogs for the program are selected carefully, with special attention paid to their temperament, Boeche said.
“Not only do we want our dogs to be safe, we want the inmates there taking care of the dogs to be safe,” Boeche said. “We look at training capacity. A dog who can already do all the basic commands may not need to go in.”
Other prisons in Washington have their own animal programs, Brown said. Funding and equipment for the program currently comes mostly from the generosity of the community, Boeche and Brown said.
“Currently, most of it’s funded through fundraising efforts and donors,” Boeche said. “We’re hoping to do some grant writing.”
There are still some Freedom Tails dogs awaiting adoption, listed specifically on the shelter’s website at pawsgh.org/freedomtails/.
Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or [email protected].