The Welfare for Animals Guild (WAG) in Sequim, Washington recently reunited several dogs once deemed “un-adoptable” with the Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC) inmates who helped train and rehabilitate them; it had been five years since they last saw each other. It was a happy event for everyone involved, including the dogs, whose exuberance over seeing their former trusted companions was undeniable. The dog-training program sponsored by WAG has seen over 200 dogs go from lost to loved since it first began.
The canines in question have been placed in the program based on their displays of troublesome behavior, which includes aggression, biting, anxiety and other issues as the result of trauma sustained in their prior living situations. Allowing inmates to serve as their trainers seemed the perfect match, as the responsibility of caring for a dog, particularly one that is troubled, requires constant attention, patience, kindness and selflessness; something neither the animals or inmates had previously understood the importance of. According to Guild president Barbara Brabant, the round-the-clock care necessary for the dogs fit perfectly with those who spend 24-hours a day in prison.
However, not just any inmate is accepted into the program. The dozen or so chosen to participate receive the job based on good behavior out of the roughly 900 inmates at CBCC. The dogs stay at the facility for weeks or months at a time; however long it takes for them to let go of their fear and anger, meaning the inmates must be willing to commit themselves to caring for their assigned animal for an indeterminate amount of time. In doing so, they not only learn responsibility and accountability, they also learn a new skill they can use when they get out of prison.
Though the AKC will not certify any inmate as an official dog trainer, WAG is currently putting together a program that would allow them to be certified under WAG’s sponsorship, which would provide them with potential employment opportunities with the organization once they are released. According to Michelle Klepps, a correctional unit supervisor, “This not only changes the dog, it changes the offenders in a positive way.”
The dogs sleep in the inmates’ cells, and are taken for daily walks in a designated part of the prison yard, where each inmate is responsible for picking up after their animals and providing affection and attention on a constant basis. Throughout their training, each canine wears a color-coded leash: a red leash indicates the animal should not be touched, a yellow leash indicates permission from the trainer is required before touching or petting it, and a green leash lets others know they may “give the dog all the love” they’ve got. Around 50 people attended the reunion, including journalists, radio personalities, 35 WAG board members and several dog-owning members of the community.
For one inmate who participated in the program, William Friedrichs, the experience has changed his entire outlook on life. The 33-year-old inmate is serving 28 years for armed robbery; he was assigned to care for and train a boxer-husky named Connor, who has since found a forever home. Though the prisoners aren’t provided any information regarding who adopted their animals or where they live, they do receive pictures of their animals living the life they deserve, with Friedrichs having recently received a photo of Connor frolicking on the beach chasing after birds. He said of the experience, “I feel that through this program, I am being able to top the scales by doing so much more good. I’m finally creating positive stuff instead of just negative, destructive things. It’s helped with my ability to communicate with others, and I’ve become more compassionate.”
When he was first given Connor, the dog was considered too aggressive to be adopted out. “Not a bad dog, just an aggressive dog,” he said. “He didn’t want to fight, but it turned into a fight because he didn’t have a better way. I spent a lot of time to socially interact, and now he lives a full and happy life.” It doesn’t get much better than that, for both Friedrichs and Connor.
There’s no denying the unconditional love dogs provide can have a truly profound effect on a person; even the most hardened of criminals. As a dog lover myself, with two furry companions of my own, I can’t imagine it gets any better than the look of love on their faces just for showing up. What a wonderful thing WAG is doing; I hope it continues to save the lives of those deemed irredeemable; both furry and human alike.