Prisoners and pooches form pawtnership

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There are a number of obstacles preventing Adams County Pet Rescue from adopting out dogs as quickly as possible, and one of the most significant can be obedience training. Dogs that enter into the Pet Rescue’s care are often untrained, unnamed and poorly suited for adoption, but training programs can be costly.

The Ridge Dogs program, therefore, was a creative solution to two distinct problems. Started in 2007, the obedience training program has matched over 7,000 dogs with over 200 prison inmate handlers. Adams County Pet Rescue joined the program over five years ago and partners with Grant County Animal Outreach and the Benton-Franklin Humane Society to bring dogs into the program.

The dogs receive training and companions to help heal the trauma from which they were rescued, living at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center until they can pass an obedience test. On the flip side, prisoners at Coyote Ridge develop job skills, all while earning a sense of accomplishment and learning to invest in another’s well-being.

Last year’s top dog handler worked with the Coyote Ridge program for six years and worked with the pet rescue for a year after he was released from prison. Though he has since earned his commercial driver’s license, he still does dog training to this day.

“He had never held a job longer than three months his whole life, and he was almost 50,” said PJ Carter, adoption coordinator and animal control at Adams County Pet Rescue. “It gave him somewhere to go, some direction in life.”

Coyote Ridge takes in dogs that aren’t adopted from the Pet Rescue within 28 days, Carter said, and inmates train the animals for basic obedience, including crate training, leash training and house training. Trainers work with the dogs to build up their confidence and socialize them with other animals, skills they need but didn’t gain in their previous lives, Carter said.

“The program is really beneficial for adoption rates,” said Carter. “A lot of people know about the Ridge program, so a lot of people want to adopt specifically Ridge dogs. A lot of the dogs we get at the shelter have just been dogs; they’ve never had any training and they’ve never been given a name.”

The Pet Rescue works to adopt the dogs out while they’re still at the ridge. Potential adopters can go out to the facility, and if they choose to adopt the animal they can meet the inmate who trained them.

Adopters also receive a pamphlet with all of the dog’s training and medical history before taking their new furry friend home. The pamphlets include hand signals that the training program uses to teach the dogs to perform certain behaviors like sitting or laying down.

For Kyya Grant, director of the Adams County Pet Rescue, the program is as beneficial for prisoners as it is for pooches.

“It brings them a lot of joy and a sense of completion when they get to see a dog come in and at the end of the program they get to see something change towards the positive,” Grant said.

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