2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s New Leash on Life inmate dog training program. The program was launched in 2004 at the Black Mountain Correctional Facility. Today, there are at least 18 minimum and medium level security prisons across the state with NLOL programs. Under the guidance of volunteer dog trainers, shelter and rescue animals are paired with qualified inmates. Dogs live in the prisons with the inmates during the eight to ten week long training process.
This summer, I became aware of the New Leash on Life program when my oldest daughter, Amanda, began working a college internship for the Randolph County Health Department. Randolph County Health Director, Mimi Cooper, took Amanda under her wing and exposed her to the many aspects of public health. Just like in Chatham County, the animal shelter falls under the umbrella of the Health Department.
Five years ago Mimi was instrumental in bringing the New Leash on Life program to the Randolph Correctional Facility in Asheboro. She saw it as a way to provide training for some of the shelter dogs to help make them more adoptable.
Mimi’s personal dog is a certified therapy dog. Mimi actively supports the NLOL program and personally performs weekly check-ins at the prison. Chatham County resident and veteran dog training professional, Anne Evans, also attends the weekly meetings. Together, Mimi and Anne help the inmates with the details of dog training. They ensure the dogs are on schedule to graduate from the progam, and determine if the trainers need equipment, dog treats, etc.
In eight short weeks the Randolph Correctional trainers socialize the dogs within the prison, teach the dogs basic obedience commands, and help the dogs earn their Canine Good Citizenship Certification. The inmates also manage to teach the dogs several fun tricks like riding skateboards, jumping through hoops, rolling over, getting a drink out of the fridge, and more. Most dogs have adopters waiting for them when they complete the program, and many canine graduates go on to become certified therapy dogs.
Inmate dog training programs have been in existence for decades. These programs benefit the lives of both the dogs and the inmates. The inmate trainers say they feel privileged to be chosen to participate in the program. Studies have shown that having dogs in correctional facilities reduces the level of violence throughout the entire prison population. Inmates report interacting with the dogs is calming, and sometimes the only time you get the opportunity to speak in a gentle voice is when you are talking to a dog.
Depending on several variables, the recidivism statistics start at 40%, but can be much higher. The state doesn’t keep statistics for the New Leash on Life programs, but in the five years of the Randolph Correctional program none of the NLOL trainers have reoffended.
The next New Leash on Life graduation ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, September 17th 2014 at 2:00 pm. It will be at 725 McDowell Road, Asheboro, NC and is open to the public. During the 60 to 90 minute entertaining program the trainers show what they have taught their dogs over the last eight weeks. Afterward there is a time for refreshments and you can meet the dogs and talk to the trainers. Then the graduated dogs leave with their adopters, or return to the shelter or rescue group they came from until they are adopted. There is not much time for the trainers to miss the dogs because they are immediately assigned a new dog to train. They leave the graduation event, together, ready to bring out the best in each other.
I am thrilled to know that a program such as New Leash on Life exists and hope they continue to receive enthusiastic support from the public. This program is not state funded; no tax money is used to support NLOL. Volunteer trainers and donations keep these programs going. For more about Randolph County’s New Leash on Life program, NLOL dogs available for adoption, or how you can make a donation, contact the Randolph County Animal Shelter at 336-683-8235 or www.rcaspets.org.