In­mates learn by train­ing dogs

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAN­D - By El­iza Fawcett

Lacedric Banks walked onto the stage lead­ing Ziggy, a young pit bull.

He softly told him to “sit” and “stay.” Then, hold­ing Ziggy’s leash out, Banks walked around him in a cir­cle. Ziggy — about a year-and-a-half old, white with dark spots on his ears — waited ex­pec­tantly, quiet and still.

The stage was in the chapel of Di­vi­sion 9, Cook County Jail’s max­i­mum se­cu­rity wing. Banks had spent the last eight weeks train­ing Ziggy, a res­cue dog from Chicago An­i­mal Care and Con­trol, through Tails of Re­demp­tion, a pro­gram in which in­mates train and take care of dogs who have been lan­guish­ing in an­i­mal shel­ters.

“All of th­ese dogs were likely go­ing to be eu­th­a­nized be­cause they were too ag­gres­sive,” said Cook County Sher­iff Thomas Dart. “From the an­i­mal stand­point, we went from a death sen­tence to a lov­ing house­hold.”

One of the con­cerns some­times raised with an­i­mal train­ing programs in prisons is that de­tainees cy­cle through jail too quickly to es­tab­lish last­ing bonds, Dart said. But the 8to 10-week pro­gram has been suc­cess­ful for both the dogs and their train­ers, he said. Par­tic­i­pants can re­quest to be con­sid­ered for the pro­gram and are se­lected based on an in­ter­nal screen­ing process.

Of the 15 dogs who have gone through the pro­gram, only two — Ziggy and Zest — have not yet been adopted. One dog, Cookie, was adopted by the Cook County K-9 unit as a nar­cotics dog — and re­cently helped in the seizure of $100,000 in drug money, Dart said.

Train­ing the dogs takes pa­tience and ded­i­ca­tion, re­quir­ing in­mates to build a rap­port and es­tab­lish trust with their as­signed dog. But it is of­ten very re­ward­ing.

“This is my sec­ond round, and hope­fully I’ll be around for the third,” Banks said.

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