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Inmates at Two Rivers Correctional Institution will start training dogs beginning next month.
Beginning next month, dogs who may have had a “ruff” go of things will be given a second chance from an unlikely group also getting a second chance to do some good.
For the first time, Two Rivers Correctional Institution inmates will train local stray and surrendered dogs so they are more marketable for adoption.
For the program, 18 inmates who have been screened and interviewed by TRCI staff will train six dogs from Pet Rescue for eight to 10 weeks beginning in March. Tracy Hill, a dog trainer with 4 Paws DogWorks, has volunteered to teach the inmates how to train the animals. Hill will also work with the inmates one-on-one as they interact with the dogs.
TRCI correctional counselor Dessa Myrick said many of the institutions that have started a dog-training program have seen tremendous success. She said participating in the program gives inmates an incentive to behave and meet expectations.
“A lot of (the inmates) were excited and wanted to do it, but they can’t because they don’t meet the criteria,” she said. “This provides an incentive.”
Myrick said the dog-training program also improves the inmates socialization skills as well as the dogs’ chances of being adopted.
“Petting dogs has been shown to lower blood pressure,” Myrick said. “It can help people, including inmates, cope with stress, anxiety. Inmates can also feel like they are providing a dog with a second chance while also getting a second chance to do some good.”
TRCI’s dog-training program will be conducted by medium-security inmates, as opposed to those in minimum security, because prison officials wanted to increase the programs available to those inmates, Myrick said.
Myrick said, once the inmates are chosen for the program, three will be assigned to a single dog, and they will rotate duties as main handler, alternate handler and back-up or “babysitter.”
Hill will provide the inmates with classroom instruction and field training, and the inmates will work with the animals from 7 or 8 a.m. through the span of a normal work day. The dogs will stay with the inmates even as they are in their living quarters, TRCI Captain David Heehn said.
Through the course of the training, inmates will teach the dogs basic obedience commands, including how to sit, stay and come, as well as socialize them — getting them used to human interaction — on a daily basis. Inmates will also learn basic veterinary care and grooming from veterinary assistants at the Hermiston Veterinary Clinic, which is also partnering with TRCI for the program.
The dogs’ progress will be routinely checked by a trainer and tracked with a color-coded chart that will also indicate when they may be approached. At the end of their training, they will be tested on the skills they were taught.
TRCI Eastside Business Services Manager Dawn Wagner said the primary cost to the prison was building the kennels at approximately $9,000. She said inmates did all the work, from the laying of the sod to construction of the fences. The funding was provided by the inmate work program. She said inmates built six kennels large enough to house two dogs each. She said TRCI is starting with six dogs because officials want to ensure the program’s success by starting slow.
For that reason, Myrick said inmates won’t initially train breeds that are known to be more aggressive to reduce the chance of dog bites. Regardless, she said the state feels dog-training programs are important enough that dog bites will be handled as they come.
“It’s going to be cautious in the beginning,” Heehn said. “It’s going to be a big deal. Some of these guys haven’t seen an animal in 20 years.”
Myrick said officials hope inmates will eventually train more aggressive dogs so they are more suitable for adoption and that there won’t be a limit to the types of dog they train.
“We are planning to have a variety of different dogs,” she said. “We won’t be limited on a particular breed or size.”
Most of the inmates, Wagner said, have worked with or had dogs in the past in some capacity, as either pets or hunting dogs, but that wasn’t a requirement to participate in the program.
Myrick said TRCI officials will select the first six dogs on March 2 from Hermiston Pet Rescue, which will provide all the dogs for the program. The dogs will be spayed or neutered, micro-chipped and given their shots before they begin their training at TRCI the following week.
Hermiston Pet Rescue Director Beau Putnam said he is excited to participate in the program.
“I think it is only going to help our organization adopt out dogs that would be less likely to be adopted due to behavior issues,” he said. “We would like to help those types of dogs find a home.”
Putnam said Pet Rescue will probably retain at least $100 from the adoption of the dogs as the shelter is funded partially though adoption fees, but the remaining funds will go back to TRCI to pay for vaccinating and spaying or neutering the animals as well as other costs.
Putnam and officials at TRCI said they have yet to work out exactly how the dogs will be adopted out, but plans include possibly hosting an adoption event or auction of some kind.
Wagner said the hope is Hermiston and the surrounding communities will support the program by adopting the dogs. In the interim, she said the program would benefit from donations of items such as steel bowls, garbage bins and other dog items. She said people can call TRCI at 541-922-2001 and ask for her or Myrick for information on how to donate items or funds for the program.