Pair­ings ben­e­fit in­mates, dogs

Jail pro­gram aims to build ac­count­abil­ity in fe­male of­fend­ers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - ASHTON ELEY

BENTONVILLE — It’s hard to imag­ine that in­mate Ta­nis Wha­ley never had a dog, or any pets, af­ter watch­ing her play with Cruise and Mr. Beans with an air of con­fi­dence she said she learned in the New Leash on Life pro­gram at the Ben­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice.

The pro­gram aims to build fe­male of­fend­ers’ ac­count­abil­ity and morale while adopt­ing dogs that might be stuck in a shel­ter or eu­th­a­nized, said Sgt. Shan­non Jenk­ins, Sher­iff’s Of­fice spokes­woman.

Cruise is a lov­ing brown­black striped pit­bull who went to live al­most a month ago in the new H Pod hold­ing unit at the county jail.

The women who par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram are matched with a dog and are fully re­spon­si­ble for the dog’s care, which in­cludes feed­ing, groom­ing, house train­ing, obe­di­ence train­ing and keep­ing a di­ary of the process, Jenk­ins said. Sup­plies are pur­chased with do­na­tions to the pro­gram.

Re­search at jails withe sim­i­lar dog- train­ing pro­grams shows about 80 per­cent of the in­mates don’t re­turn to prison com­pared to the na­tional av­er­age of 50 per­cent.

Maj. Rogers Brandon said it also has helped di­min­ish the drama and fight­ing among in­mates and in­still lead­er­ship skills in many.

“She ob­vi­ously had lead­er­ship skills. The dogs took to her quickly and re­spected her,” Brandon said about Wha­ley. “The in­mates around her are also see­ing how she in­ter­acts with that dog and some of them are start­ing to de­velop those same things. That is so im­por­tant to us, be­cause we want them to be lead­ers, not fol­low­ers.”

The pro­gram also teaches the in­mates a tech­ni­cal skill. Brandon said they hope to of­fer a train­ing cer­tifi­cate to help the women get jobs af­ter they leave, though that isn’t part of the pro­gram yet.

The dogs cho­sen have mild to mod­er­ate dis­po­si­tions with a need to de­velop bet­ter so­cial skills. Many of the dogs at the Rogers Hu­mane So­ci­ety are pit­bull mixes, which can come with a stigma, Capt. Jeremy Guyll said. He helps choose the dogs and specif­i­cally looks at the de­meanor and if it is a breed peo­ple gen­er­ally look down upon.

The Sher­iff’s Of­fice plans to have five to six dogs at a time and keep them un­til they are fully obe­di­ence trained, which typ­i­cally takes 60-90 days, said Brandon.

Ca­nine train­ers and an­i­mal shel­ter vol­un­teers teach the women how to prop­erly train the dogs, but what the in­mates give the dogs and vice versa goes a step fur­ther, said Clay­ton Mor­gan, di­rec­tor of the Rogers Hu­mane So­ci­ety.

“This is more of a home en­vi­ron­ment for them,” Mor­gan said. “I see a night and day dif­fer­ence in the dogs and a change in the peo­ple as well.”

Wha­ley was taken aback by the dogs at first, she said, but she and some of the other in­mates can re­late to the abuse the an­i­mals have suf­fered. They’re build­ing trust and a new mind set to­gether.

“It’s easy to lose hope when you’re be­hind walls, but they give you hope when you see them pro­gress­ing ev­ery day from be­ing in the back of a cage ter­ri­fied to now he goes up to men with­out hes­i­ta­tion,” Wha­ley said scratch­ing Mr. Beans’ back. “It gives them a sense that they have a fu­ture if th­ese guys have a fu­ture.”

“This is more of a home en­vi­ron­ment for them. I see a night and day dif­fer­ence in the dogs and a change in the peo­ple as well.”

— Clay­ton Mor­gan, di­rec­tor of the Rogers Hu­mane So­ci­ety

NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Cruise, a New Leash On Life dog, nuz­zles Margie Stell­wa­gen, an in­mate at the Ben­ton County Jail, on Tues­day in Bentonville.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Margie Stell­wa­gen, an in­mate at the Ben­ton County Jail, pets Cruise, a New Leash on Life dog at the jail.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Ta­nis Wha­ley, an in­mate at the Ben­ton County Jail, walks Tues­day out­side of a cell pod with Mr. Beans, a New Leash on Life dog, in Bentonville.

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