June 6, 2023
Categories: Animal Behavior, Collaboration

Prison training programs with shelter dogs can be transformative. Has your animal organization considered getting involved with a local prison training program but not sure where to start? Or maybe you’re just interested in learning more about what a program like this entails? The recording of the Community Conversation featuring a Prison Training Programs Discussion Panel is for you! You’ll hear from panelists who have created shelter dog training programs in partnership with correctional facilities in various states.  

Panelists include: 

Kyle Cory-Yaeggi, CEO at Liberty Dogs has been in the service dog industry over a decade. He’s currently facilitating relationships with the Department of Corrections for its Liberty Dog program that is in the works. When it comes to establishing relationships, Cory-Yaeggi recommends finding contacts within the Department of Corrections. “Finding those individuals who will really be those champions for these organizations moving forward and that has led to a lot of success with programs that I’ve been involved with.” As for ways to get involved, they’re always looking for weekend furlough fosters for dogs that are in the program that are already up and running. 

Alex Tonner, Founder and President at Paws for Life K9 Rescue started their service program in 2016, training shelter dogs to be service dogs. The organization also recently launched a first responder program, placing dogs in fire houses, and a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) educational program, where they’ll be teaching people who are incarcerated to become RVTs.   

Tonner was joined by colleague Jon Grobman, Chief Operations Officer at Paws for Life K9 Rescue. Grobman was formerly incarcerated and a trainer in the program. He was sentenced to prison for life under the California three-strikes law.  “The dog program changed every aspect of my life and gave me a new appreciation for everything, including love, which is totally devoid in a prison system,” he shared. “There was a lot of racism, hatred and violence where I was and this neutralized everything. It brought people together for a common cause. Most people don’t have the opportunity to go home, so they’re doing it purely to give back.”  

Paws for Life K9 Rescue was one of the first groups to go into a maximum security prison. “The idea was that since no one’s getting out, the dogs are going to get to become these amazing trainers who can go on to be mentors,” said Tonner. But now there’s only four men left out of fifteen who are part of the program, waiting to come home. “I’m super proud of everyone who’s in the program. We can’t do it all, nor do we want to. So we want to give everyone these tools to help.”  

Cathy King, Executive Director at  Canines with a Cause started a prison training program in Utah to help train the dogs to be therapy dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. “Having the time in the prison, we really get to know the dogs,” said King. “The first program we ever did was in 2014 in Utah and it was a journey getting everyone on board.” After the Utah program was up and running, two other prisons (one in Nevada and one in Idaho) approached them about starting a program. “Once we had the dogs being trained in those areas we paired up with appropriate trainers and humane societies and really created a template of starting programs.”   

Grobman shares that within its program, the reoffend rate is at zero percent with over 200 men going home. “Its evidence that this is rehabilitation in nature and this is what the department should be investing in. Our largest program has about 120 trainers in it and 30-40 dogs and it’s a giant family.”  

Watch the full call to learn more about the programs and how animal shelter and rescue organizations can get involved.