Inmates using time behind bars to train troubled dogs 

Inmates at the Maple Street Jail are helping correct problem dogs’ behavior before the dogs are adopted, a therapeutic exercise that benefits the convicts and canines.

Through an innovative partnership between the Sheriff’s Department and the Peninsula Humane Society, the Transitioning Animals Into Loving Settings (TAILS) program takes men who are in custody for nonviolent crimes and turns them into dog trainers.

Members of the Sheriff’s Department had been looking into providing the 46 men who live full-time at the facility with something constructive to do during the day, Lt. Lisa Williams said. The facility already had a garden with some chickens, but one of the deputies suggested creating a dog training program that could be run at the county level with shelter dogs.

“We spoke with the Peninsula Humane Society, who was wonderful and receptive to the possibility,” Williams said. “This is just a wonderful program; it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

The purpose of the program is to match dogs that have questionable adoption potential with inmate volunteers who have been trained to care for and provide behavior modification to the animals.

TAILS, which celebrated its one-year anniversary Friday, has already had 29 men and 17 dogs graduate from the program, Williams said. Since the dogs are housed in the jail, the inmates care for them 24/7 and are responsible for feeding, grooming, obedience training and playtime in the large yard outside the facility. While the men are in custody, they are required to work, so each dog has two handlers, rotating on a two-day schedule, Williams said.

Maria Eguren, a behaviorist for the Peninsula Humane Society, does behavior testing to determine each dog’s problem and then members at the Sheriff’s Office match the men with particular dogs based on their prior experience with animals.

“Most of these dogs have small issues that can be worked out through basic attention and obedience training,” Williams said. “We have a puppy, Apple, whose only problem is that she’s a hyper puppy and just needs basic training, so we can match her with a man who has never had experience with dogs.

“But if we have a dog that is rough and maybe likes to play tug of war with a leash, we need someone who has confidence in handling that type of dog.”

So far, there have been no incidents — aside from a dog chasing one of the jail’s chickens and minor accidental nips — when training dogs, Williams said.

While the TAILS program focuses on preparing the dogs for adoption, the inmates also benefit from the human-dog bond, as they gain the confidence and skills needed to go on to other vocational training programs and future jobs. Two men have even adopted their dogs after being released from custody.

shaughey@sfexaminer.com

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