Shelters Spotlight: How Incarcerated Men and Shelter Dogs Rehabilitate Each Other
This 10-part series is brought to you by GOOD, in partnership with Purina ONE®. We've teamed up to highlight inspiring animal shelters around the country that are finding innovative and unexpected approaches to serve their communities. Read more about how pets—and the people who love them—can brighten lives and strengthen our communities at the GOOD Pets hub.
Michigan Humane Society has a unique approach to giving back to the community: pairing incarcerated adult males with behaviorally-challenged dogs so that both can reenter society productively. Through a partnership with Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan, dogs awaiting adoption receive one-on-one training and a home for ten weeks with residents of the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan.
Whatever the reason for the dogs' history—maybe former owners never trained them, or they were left on the street—MHS will put them back in school so that they can become socialized, trained, and more adoptable. "We're on constant watch for dogs with challenging behaviors that would benefit from RPSM. Once the canines are assessed by our behaviorists to make certain they are not dog aggressive, food bowl aggressive, and weigh more than twelve pounds, they may be considered for the program," MHS Community Outreach Director Marie Skladd says.
Through the RPSM program, the community experiences a win-win. Dogs' lives are saved and incarcerated adult males get the chance to provide a service to the community. In a video chronicling the positive experiences of RPSM’s participants, many spoke to how their lives have been changed while learning how to train shelter dogs. One of the program’s trainers, Raymond, who has been incarcerated for two and a half years, said, "Helping the dogs get reintroduced into society helps me get reintroduced to society. The program has given me a chance to build a little more responsibility. It teaches me a lot, and also the dogs a lot."
Many other participants of the program share Raymond's sentiment. Nolan, who enjoys the process of training dogs, said the program has offered him a degree of normalcy over the last four years of his incarceration. He’s realized not only how much he loves learning about dogs' behavior, but also how grateful he is to be able to improve the lives of the animals, and their adopters. Joshua, incarcerated for 10 years, said he's found a sense of direction through the program.
Visitors to the correctional facility have been impressed with the progress of both the animals and humans involved in RPSM. When the director of the Department of Corrections saw blind hound dog Quinn perform his commands, he was so inspired that he had RPSM start a program at another correctional facility in Michigan. Martin, who trained Quinn, was approved as his adopter when given parole after a five-year incarceration. In explaining his relationship with Quinn, Martin said, "I've discovered over time, I've needed him far more than he's needed me."
Aside from improving the lives of incarcerated adults, RPSM has also changed the lives of families in the surrounding community. Eveginna and Tom had a dog that was losing its eyesight and when they adopted Indy through RPSM, he became an important companion and guide for their blind dog. The departure letter they received from the incarcerated man that trained Indy even included commands and tips so that the couple could continue to encourage the best behavior in their new dog.
Now, due to the success of RPSM, Ojibway Correctional Facility in Marenisco, Michigan is in the middle of implementing the program. The power of education, for both dogs and incarcerated males, combined with a complete approach to sheltering animals, is what makes Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan so effective. "Animals housed in shelters don't fair too well if kept there too long, so these animals thrive in this type of one-on-one training environment. If the dog can put the human on a right path, everyone and everything benefits," says Skladd.
Photos via Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan