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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 9:07 pm | Fair 56º


Pets and Prisoners Benefit From Inmate Dog, Cat Training

Program targeted for new Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail

Train-the-trainer model is based on Pawsitive Change program at California City Correctional Center.
Train-the-trainer model is based on Pawsitive Change program at California City Correctional Center. (Courtesy photo)

An agreement creating the first inmate dog training and cat socialization program to follow the Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail project opening has been announced by County Sheriff Bill Brown and Santa Maria Valley Humane Society executive director Sean Hawkins.

A site visit with the Pawsitive Change inmate dog training program at the California City Correctional Center prison in California City last week helped to conceptualize the details for launching the inmate training programs at the Northern Branch Jail.

“The animal shelter approached the Sheriff’s Office in January 2018 about the possibility of creating a partnership with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and the Northern Branch Jail project,” said Brown.

“We toured the Humane Society’s state-of-the-art facilities, which are less than two miles from the site of the new Northern Branch Jail, and met with its executive director, Sean Hawkins, and the animal training and behavior manager, Jody Epstein, to learn about the shelter’s need to expand its dog and cat training programs,” Brown said.

“I believe that, not only do dogs and cats provide stress relief for inmates, but creating an avenue to learn a skill like dog training or animal care, is important,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office has long considered an animal training program as one of the preferred options when the Northern Branch Jail opens.

“Most animals relinquished to shelters in Santa Barbara County have medical or behavior issues,” said Hawkins. “We receive dogs with no manners or skills and cats who are shy or fearful, and those animals are not readily adoptable into new homes.

“With limited resources for staff and animal behavior specialists, the number of animals we can help and heal is limited.

“By partnering with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff to create the inmate dog training and cat socialization program, we will increase our capacity to save the lives of more dogs and cats who would be euthanized in other shelters.”

This train-the-trainer model will be based on the successful Pawsitive Change program developed by Marley’s Mutts in the California City Correctional Center.

The goal for Santa Barbara will be to develop a 10-week curriculum where the animal shelter behavior manager and dog trainers spend time in the jail working with male inmates to provide instruction on each week’s lesson.

About 10-12 dogs will be living with inmates 24/7 in the new jail for the six-week training period. Dogs will be trained to standards that allow them to complete a rigorous 10-step Canine Good Citizen test prior to graduation from the program.

Plans are underway for about six shy or fearful cats to be co-housed with female inmates for a 30-day socialization period. Living 24/7 with inmates will acclimate the cats to unfamiliar people. The dog training and cat socialization are geared toward preparing these pets for new homes.

“We know that inmate dog training programs are beneficial,” Brown said.

“We hope that our correctional programs are not only a deterrent to crime but that valuable skills are taught so that released inmates who have participated in these programs have an opportunity where they can obtain a job, such as being a dog trainer or an animal care specialist, and contribute to future positive outcomes,” he said.

The program will reinforce some of the other behavioral practices to improve inmate re-entry into society and reduce recidivism.

“With the site visit complete, we will spend the next few months working with the sheriff’s team to write the protocols and procedures for the program that we will launch here,” Hawkins said.

“The North County Jail inmate training program is the only program that we are aware of where both dogs and cats will be trained, and both male and female inmates participate,” he said. “Our program will be unique; we hope to save the lives of an additional 150 dogs and cats per year.”

The Santa Barbara County Northern Branch Jail project is near Santa Maria. The project scope is for a 376-bed jail facility, of which 32 beds are for medical and mental health beds in a specialized housing unit.

The facility is being built on a portion of the 50-acre property previously acquired by the county at Black and Betteravia roads.

For more about the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society visit www.smvhs.org.

— Kelly Hoover for Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.


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