KINGMAN – Tears and laughter filled the meeting hall of Arizona State Prison-Kingman on Friday when a six-week-long dog training program concluded.
Four inmates who were chosen by the prison to train three dogs from Mutt Matchers & Friends, a local dog shelter, showed a large audience what progress the three dogs had made in the past month and a half. With verbal or gesture orders, three dogs performed some basic moves, like stop, sit down and stay. The audience broke into laughter when the dogs did rollovers, which is outside the official training guide.
Linda Pulliam, president of Mutt Matchers, was impressed by the progress of the training and broke into tears several times during her speech.
“Dogs are real friends of us. Dogs will stay with us when nobody will. Dogs don’t care if you have no money, no friends, no nothing,” she said.
She said it was especially meaningful for the three dogs involved in the program because all of them were slated to be put to death at the Mohave County Shelter. Pulliam and her colleagues saved the dogs, brought them back to her shelter and tried to find them new owners.
“Through your hard work, those home-trained and socialized dogs will have a better chance to be adopted,” Pulliam said.
Steve Selke, correction program officer, could not agree more.
“This is an excellent example of teamwork. Everyone works together to make this great thing happen,” he said.
From the perspective of the prison, he believed that the training had brought some hope and human factors to the otherwise depressing environment.
“They learn knowledge, patience and work ethics. If those factors will help them succeed here, it will definitely help them be a successful person when they return to society,” Selke said.
The prison spent a lot of time in choosing qualified inmates to participate in the program. Prison officers checked both criminal and psychological backgrounds of inmates and did several rounds of interviews before picking five dog trainers from a pile of applications. Three are primary trainers and two work as backups. One person withdrew in the middle of the program because of a health problem, Selke said.
During the training session, the inmates moved to large rooms to live with the dogs 24 hours a day and had a specially enclosed area to train dogs on a daily basis.
If any inmates were suspicious of the program at the beginning, Selke said, the success of the program has proved to them that dog training would definitely make their lives in jail better.
“As everyone else in jail, they are more or less depressive, but I can tell through the program they are different persons. They can see the hope in their lives and are willing to work hard for it,” Selke said. Though their work won’t reduce their sentences, their lives in jail should be less stressful in the future, Selke said.
Besides emotional benefits, inmates can make more money in working with dogs. The dog trainers were paid 15 cents an hour, while the average pay is 8 cents an hour. “That’s a pretty handsome payment for an inmate in jail,” Selke said.
For inmate dog trainers, the program also gave them a chance to breathe fresh air.
“There is nothing I can enjoy more than working with animals, and to be able to do it here in prison is really a big bonus. I would not trade it for anything,” said one trainer, whose name was withheld because of prison policies.
“It’s hard to describe how exciting it was for me to have animals in here – it’s a great feeling. We don’t have no friends here. We are not here to make friends. I know when I come into the door, her (the dog) tail will be wagging, (and) she will be happy to see me, and that really makes us feel great the whole day,” he said.
Another dog trainer said he learned how to be more patient through the program.
“One of the biggest things I think (it’s) going to help us with when I return to society is the program taught me patience. I have always been a ‘let’s do it right now’ kind of guy. When you train an animal, you cannot just go ahead in a moment. You have to step back and think everything through before you can do anything wrong. So you have to think about what’s best for the dog, for the program and the big picture,” he said.
During the training session, he wrote his parents and brothers letters to keep them posted about what he was doing.
“I did a lot of things I’m not proud of, and to me this is a kind of thing that’s positive in my life; I can give something back rather than take something away,” he said.
The good news for inmates and homeless dogs in the area is that the program will start again in a couple of weeks.
“It’s just a baby step right now. I hope this program can grow into a major one in our prison and more inmates will have the opportunities to get involved,” Selke said.
Mutt Matchers looks forward to expanding the program. The shelter now can host 10 dogs. If they send all those dogs to the prison, they will have room to save more.
Anyone interested in adopting a dog through the program or donating to the program can call 718-4364.