Teaching Old and Young Dogs New Tricks with Citrus County Inmates

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Inmate Dog Training Program gives both the inmates and dogs participating in the program, a new “paw-spective” on life. In partnership with Citrus County Animal Services, select dogs are chosen to participate in an 8 week basic obedience program aimed at improving the lives and behaviors of both the dogs and their handlers.

During the 8 week training program, CCA inmates are given the opportunity to work with dogs which are homeless or have been abandoned by their families. The ultimate goal of the program is to prepare the dogs to assume their role in society as man’s best friend. Ultimately, though, the program changes the lives of all those involved, whether they have four legs or two.

“The dogs go through a process of correction and rehabilitation and will be ready to find a family, thanks to the work of our participants.” said Assistant Warden, Mike Quinn.

“Interest” is the most important factor when selecting inmates to participate in the program according to Warden Russell Washburn.  Participants spend every moment with the dog, so they must be willing to constantly care for their furry companion.

Once inmates confirm they understand the degree of commitment necessary for this program, Washburn and Quinn review their histories and current behavior at the facility. Inmate participants may not have any current or historical charges of domestic violence, sexual charges or animal cruelty charges.

At the end of the 8-week training session, a graduation ceremony is held where the dogs are presented back to Animal Services for adoption. The inmates often form strong emotional bonds with their dogs over the course of the session, but they are eager to begin a new journey with a new dog in the next session.

Participating in the program often marks a turning point for inmates, especially those with violent backgrounds. Washburn has seen inmates that he has known for several years change dramatically once they became involved in the program.

“They begin to put themselves second,” Washburn said. “In some cases, providing for the dog becomes more important than providing for themselves.”

After graduating from the program, the dogs will be made available for adoption, said Morgan Woodward, Director of Animal Services. “We are very excited about this program. I see great things happening as a result of this partnership and I look forward to watching this program grow.”

This program is beneficial to all involved, enabling participants to glean invaluable life lessons and forge relationships built on trust. Inmates practice responsibility and feel a strong sense of pride in the work they do, knowing the dogs will have a bright future filled with love and compassion in a new home.