Colorado Correctional Industries K-9 Companion Program Provides Prison-Trained Dogs to Eager Families, Law Enforcement, and Companion Dogs
By: Jessica Cuthbertson and Jodene Fawcett
In a small town in Colorado, nestled between rolling hills and vast yellowish green plains, tucked away on a dirt road, stands a large concrete building. The building is home to hundreds of prison inmates and several dozen dogs. The mix of lovable canines and hardened criminals may seem unusual, but the result of this combination is an animal rescue program that rehabilitates prisoners while placing neglected dogs with loving families.
CCI (Colorado Correctional Industries) sponsors the K-9 Companion program. Currently, 140 prisoners participate in the program at nine prison facilities throughout Colorado. This unique pet adoption program rescues strays and dogs from shelters, breeders and owners who no longer want their pets. The program places the canines in the training program where each dog is assigned to a prisoner who is responsible for training, socializing and caring for the dog until he is adopted by a hopeful owner.
Potential dog owners can access the CCI/K-9 Companion website at http://www.coloradoci.com/. Dog profiles are posted with pictures and information about the breed/mix, temperament and suitability. In any given week, several dozen dogs may be listed of all sizes, breeds, temperaments and energy levels.
When a potential owner finds a dog they think might be a great addition to their family, they contact the program and arrange for an interview. During the interview the family is allowed to walk and interact with the dog, and if the dog has completed the training program, the family can practice some basic commands. If the dog seems like a good match for the family, the future owners arrange a pick-up time with the program after training, spaying or neutering, and the vaccination process is completed.
Each dog receives all necessary shots and a background physical to check its overall health. The training program involves socialization where the dogs learn how to interact with other animals and different types of people. All of the dogs are house broken, and each receives training around a variety of commands, including sit, stay, down, down-stay, and come. Highly trainable dogs are taught other commands and amusing tricks as well.
When the family returns to the facility to pick up their new pet they receive an orientation that includes practicing commands and viewing video footage of their dog working with the inmate during the training program. They also receive a complete set of records, a journal that includes twice-a-day diary entries from the inmate about what the dog accomplished during its time in the program, and an instructional DVD that reviews the commands the dog has learned to help the new owners reinforce the training in their own homes.
Owners of CCI adopted pets can bring the dog back for boarding or additional training in the future if they find it necessary. The complete adoption package for any dog on the website is $450.00, a reasonable fee considering the program is not tax supported and all of the dogs come fully trained, vaccinated and ready to adapt to life with their new owners.
ATusche@ (left) was rescued from a shelter and “Che” (right) was rescued from a puppy mill. Each have adapted well to life with their adopted family since Agraduating@ from training in the K-9 Companion Program.
In addition to the personal-owner training, certain dogs are chosen for specialized training. Dogs showing special traits or appropriate temperament are trained as companion dogs for autistic children, disabled individuals and soldiers abroad. Graduates, Truvy and Jenner, are the farthest-traveled dogs from this program and are currently “stationed” in Iraq where they are serving as morale and welfare dogs. A recent addition to the training program is a specialized scent-training for search and rescue dogs.
Since its inception in 2002, the program has graduated nearly 5,000 dogs. Happily, 2,000 dogs were rescued and saved from shelters. However, the largest number of dogs have come from owners who have requested their own dogs be trained because they were unable to train them and were contemplating surrendering them. These dogs are “sent to prison” for a month and given the same training as the rescues in the program.
The inmates are given a chance to put a positive spin on what could be a tortuous and lonely experience. Inmate, Shawn Souva, is currently working with his 40th dog. Souva shares, “They each hold a spot in your heart. But knowing they will be loved and cherished and working, it is saving a life really, and that’s the most rewarding – it is all the personal reward you need.”