Inmates learn by training dogs
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.