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A NEW LEASH ON LIFE
were invited to cover the graduation ceremony for the New Leash On Life
Prison Dog Training Program in NC. It was an emotional event as each inmate
stepped to the podium and spoke to the local families whose dog they had
One older gentleman moved everyone to tears as he struggled to convey what
the opportunity meant to him and how much he would miss the little dog. He
ended by saying “I’ve always heard you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”
and then choked up, he paused, lowered his head and softly said, “but this
young dog sure taught an old man new tricks.”
Each trainer gave a heel-sit-stay exhibition with his dog, ending with a
special trick. Then, to appreciative applause, they presented the dog to its
Myra Crabtree, Volunteer Assistant Director, explain how she became involved
with the program. “About three years ago received a call from the local
Human Society who said they had received a call from the Director of the
prison of Rutherford County about starting "A New Leash on Life" program. At
the time, Cherie McAlister and I were doing agility training so I knew she
had done obedience training and had titled several of her dogs, which I
hadn't. I have been involved in obedience but never titled a dog.
“We agreed this would be a great opportunity. We then contacted the
Superintendent and coordinated it from there. We got Tim Greene involved,
had several meetings at the facility to work out all the details, and Tim
got the community to donate the materials.”
Myra provided the following background, most of which would be applicable to
any area or state. In July of 2004 the state of North Carolina initiated, on
a very limited basis, a prison dog training program called A New Leash on
Life in which dogs slated for destruction in local pounds were paired with
minimum security prisoners.
Two prisons were selected to conduct the pilot program one of which was the
Marion Correctional facility. The program proved to be so successful that
the State granted six more facilities the New Leash program in 2006 with
Rutherford Correctional Center being one of the six. There are eight
inmate/handlers as each dog has a primary and a secondary handler.
The Rutherford Correctional Center is minimum security with a male
population of 243, many of whom are awaiting release into the general
population in the near future. Through this pairing of pound dogs with
inmates, 52 dogs have been re-homed into loving adoptive families.
Inmates who want to participate in the program must submit an extensive
written application and then go through an interview conducted by the
liaison officer. The candidate is then placed on a 2-week probationary
period to see if they will fit into the program. During this time the inmate
is taught to use the positive reinforcement training method, which rewards
wanted behaviors by providing something the dog enjoys i.e.; treats, hugs or
verbal praise as opposed to harsh physical punishment.
The RCC facility does not have cells, it is a dormitory facility; therefore
the dogs have a state-of-the-art kennel that was built of donated material.
During periods of severe weather the dogs stay in crates in the dorm. This
is a plus in that all the dogs go to new homes not only with the basic
obedience skills, house broken, and socialized but crate trained as well.
The New Leash on Life program instills a sense of pride; well being and
self-esteem in the involved inmates and teaches them a marketable skill. It
also teaches them patience and compassion and for many, how to love and
accept love. It has changed the environment at the Correctional facility in
positive ways as it gives the inmates a new purpose in life.
The New Leash on Life program receives no state funding. A local
veterinarian, Dr. Michelle Toms-Greene, donates all the medical care for the
dogs. Dog food is supplied by Science Diet and there is a volunteer training
director, Cherie McAlister.
dogs in the program were headed for destruction at the Pound. The basic
obedience skills they have gained ensure they will become welcome additions
to any family. It is a win/win project for all involved.
The program helps public offenders become productive members of society.
TheDogPlace is confident that some of our readers will contact local
authorities to volunteer or initiate the program in your state.
The good people at Otto Step 1-888-311-6886 donated their ingenious product
to this program and they donate a portion of their sales to the dog charity
of your choice. We hope other caring dog owners will come forward with
donations or offers to help in similar programs. It is a tangible way of
giving back to the dogs that give us so much, and as Myra said, it is a
win-win for all concerned.
Cherie McAlister, Volunteer Training Director
Myra Crabtree, Volunteer Assistant Director
Ed Hughes - Director of Programs at Rutherford Correctional Center
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