For many inmates, their time in prison is spent fighting and learning how to be “better” criminals. But for some, their stints are an opportunity to learn valuable skills that can be used on the outside to earn an honest living.
Marcus Henry is one of many prisoners who has turned his life around, and it’s thanks to Paws for Parole, a program that pairs prisoners with pups from the Alachua County Animal Shelter that need to be trained.
Henry is one of six other inmates in the Gainesville Work Camp in Florida, and has trained six dogs. His most recent trainee is a Chihuahua named Newton.
“As I’m training this dog to be a good citizen and everything, he’s training me in return as a good citizen,” Henry said. “So, we both have a future.”
On March 1st, the 150th dog in the program graduated. Each training period lasts eight weeks and is given a theme. The current session is Academy 26: NCIS (Newest Canines in Service). Newton was part of Academy 25: Pawpular Science.
A new sister program, Paws on Parole Unleashed, started earlier this month, will incorporate female inmates.
Each dog in the program learns the basic skills necessary to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test. Adoptive families have the chance to see their new dog’s skills put to work with their trainers at the graduation ceremony. According to ACAS public education program coordinator Hilary Hynes, the program helps families maintain their dogs’ learnings once they go home.
“A lot of people need that little bit of a leg up on training,” she said. “So, this is the start.”
Inmate Louis Howard became a trainer 18 months ago after a friend in the program recommended he try it.
“For us, as inmates, it just helps us better ourselves,” he said. “No telling, we might get out and have the opportunity to train dogs so that we can make an honest living.”