Pairings benefit inmates, dogs
Jail program aims to build accountability in female offenders
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
Cruise, a New Leash On Life dog, nuzzles Margie Stellwagen, an inmate at the Benton County Jail, on Tuesday in Bentonville.
Margie Stellwagen, an inmate at the Benton County Jail, pets Cruise, a New Leash on Life dog at the jail.
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.