HALL: PAWS IN PRISON: “Men training dogs, dogs teaching men”

Laura Hall
Special to The Log
Published: Friday, August 2, 2013 at 04:54 PM.

I’m on my way to graduation ceremonies of some four footed critters who have been in intensive training for the past 10 weeks.  I am on my way to Bay Correctional Facility in Panama City, Florida.

At the front entrance, I wait on the electric operated door to open and admit me.  I take off my shoes and have my possessions scanned before being admitted. Several Alaqua Animal Refuge members join me, and we are met by the charming Assistant Warden Elizabeth Keyes, who will be our guide for the day.  Somehow she manages to put me at ease with her warm smile. We are here to see how specially chosen inmates rehabilitate unwanted dogs sent by Alaqua to give them another chance at life. 

Some dogs enter the program overly aggressive, some are frightened and overly shy, some have been abused.

Deeper into the prison we enter into a large, air-conditioned room where chairs have been set up for us.  The first sign I notice is one that states, “It’s a dog’s world – ADJUST.”  It’s a colorful room full of bright signs from Auburn University’s Canine Detection Training Program, as well as Alaqua’s AKC Canine Good Citizen Program. Names of previous dog graduates are printed on the wall.  A large mural painted across the wall states, “Until one has loved a dog, part of their soul remains unawakened.”

Bay Correctional is able to take only 12 Alaqua dogs at one time because of available outdoor space. Today, nine trainers sit in blue plastic chairs across the room from us, each one with the dog they have been given for this 10-week training program. The Canine Good Citizen test consists of 10 skills the dogs must have to meet AKC requirements. Some of these skills are accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, heeding the sit and down command, coming when called, supervised separation and appearance. The coats of these beautifully groomed dogs glisten like sunshine.

 Adele Leas begins the session and the room falls silent.  The art of Jin Shin Jyutsu, taught by Adele to all these trainers, is quietly applied to each dog by their trainer.  This is an Art that harmonizes the life energy by balancing body, mind and spirit through gentle hands-on application. It lessens the attitude of fear, anger or grief. This touch is a very powerful bonding tool between handler and dog. 

I look directly across the room and I am mesmerized with the forehead to forehead complete calm shown between inmate trainer and dog.  This dog, Sissy, a mixture of blue tick hound/sharpie, has completely given herself over to the trainer and looks up at him with adoring eyes and complete trust.  Sissy was adopted out at one time, found to be used for chasing down wild boars and was readmitted by Alaqua. Though she has facial lacerations to show her past, she is now in this CGC to learn new skills in her hopes for a safe, quiet, permanent home.

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