Saturday, July 11, 2009
Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility ~ PRISON DOG PROGRAM
Friday, July 10, 2009
Prison program gives second chance for man and beast
'Another Chance for Love' pairs dogs with men incarcerated in Chino.
By SAMANTHA GOWEN
The Orange County Register
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CHINO – In the visitors' center at the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility a young man sits with a small dog in his lap. He says hello in a high-pitched, sing-song voice most pet owners know well.
Squirt, a Yorkshire terrier mutt, wriggles happily and licks his face.
"If you stick around, you'll hear a lot of funny noises coming out of us," says Brandon Gilmore, laughing as he ducks another wet kiss from Squirt.
This is the beginning of a relationship that will rehabilitate both man and canine. For 10 weeks, Gilmore and Squirt will live together and learn from each other inside the walls of a facility that imprisons young men who ran afoul of the law.
Eight ill-fated dogs from the O.C. Animal Shelter in Orange arrived Friday at the correctional facility. The men, ages 19 to 23, waited anxiously for their new charges. It's been three weeks since a previous class of canines graduated from the popular program called Another Chance for Love.
Janette Thomas is the executive director of the program that pairs troubled and homeless dogs with men incarcerated with problems of their own.
"For many of these guys, it's the first time they have ever felt true love," Thomas says. The men echo her sentiments.
"I've never had this close a bond with anyone," says Josue Tellez as he strokes his assigned dog's head. Tellez of Santa Ana has been paired with Heidi, a skittish but friendly German shepherd who sticks close to his side.
It's hard to tell on arrival day who is having a better time, the men or the dogs. Smiles and happy chatter fill the yard outside the visitors' center. While beast and man get to know each other, Thomas gives these trainers – most of them veterans of program – some tips for the weekend.
"No training yet!" Thomas emphasizes. "Just get to know the dogs, and let them get to know you."
The dogs will live alongside the men 24-7 as they master behavior and training. After graduation, the dogs will be adopted to new families – minus the issues that likely sent them to the shelter in the first place.
Kevin Felan has trained six dogs with Another Chance for Love. The program veteran was given perhaps the toughest challenge: Spanky, a Cairn terrier, who struggles with control and basic dog manners.
"Love is a big part of a dog's life," Felan says. "Without the love, the dog isn't going to give love, and he's probably going to end up at a shelter."
The word love is used a lot here. Each of the eight men expresses a deep appreciation for a program that has taught them about affection, patience and parenting skills, all from four-legged fur balls.
Thomas avoids so-called bully breeds like pit bulls and Rottweilers to offset any past experiences of the men. She intentionally pairs these reformed tough guys with 3-pound terriers and petite poodles, which often require a more gentle approach.
Los Angeles native Eric Alvarado has renamed his dog "Dodger." The flat-coated black retriever doesn't seem to mind. While the dog barks and strains his leash, Alvarado calmly explains how the dogs have helped reform him.
"I had no patience before this program," says Alvarado, who is training his third dog. "As much as we teach them, they teach us twice as much."
Andre Griffin sums up the experience for most of the men: "We give them another chance," he says. "I like the rehabilitation work we do here to get these dogs to new families.
"And you get a lot of love from the dogs," he says with a shy smile.
Stay tuned. The Register plans to follow the eight dogs and their trainers as they progress through the training program. You can read more online at ocregister.com/pettales.