Wednesday, January 9, 2013



Starting a prison dog program these days is far harder than the first one I started in 1981 at the Women's prison in Washington State. After several meetings with the Warden we were able to secure a starting day for a three month trial to see how the inmates, dogs and staff did in this unique program.   The prison was taking a risk since there were no other prisons doing a program like this but they were willing to try.
The first program has been in operation 30 years and they have a boarding and grooming inside the prison for dogs out in the community.

The Oshkosh program took a year to start, many delays to give us time to develop solid protocols to make sure that when the program did start, everything was written out so it could start on firm ground. This helped to build success faster.  My non profit organization Pathways To Hope has always focused on helping other worthwhile and hard working  programs start prison programs so they can place more dogs to help the blind and disabled or save unwanted dogs from the animal shelters.

After meeting Barb Schultze of Occupaws Guide Dog School in Madison Wisconsin, learning more about her program, I liked what I saw and decided to help her start a prison dog program which would help her place more dogs to help the blind. Realizing the difficulty it is to start a program, I committed myself for the long duration it would take to get this program in place.  Knowing the degree of difficulty it would be, it was very hard for me but at the same time, I knew all the people it would help if the program started.  This realization helped me keep going.  With Barb and her husband Mark, as well as the many giving people who donated the  needed supplies and finding the right people to make this program start to bloom both inside and out of the prison,  was a blessing.

Warden Judy Smith of the Oshkosh Correctional Center is an outstanding warden that wants to see in her institution programs develop  that help teach life skills  so when the inmate did return to the community they could see that there are options for them, giving them more potential to succeed..The prison dog programs teach the inmates how to take care of something... to be responsible, to have compassion, respect for other people and animals...  as well as to learn how to train the dog in positive ways to help others who have a disability and could benefit having a special dog that will assist them.  Warden Smith allowed us to start the PAWS FORWARD Prison Dog Program at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution and it is growing into a well ordered and beneficial program..  If the program doesn't have the support of the Warden, it makes it much more difficult to start.

After working and developing many programs around the country, I believe that the Oshkosh program has the potential to be one of the most outstanding, educational and training program that will benefit the inmates, dogs, the blind, disabled and anyone associated with the program. There is a team of twelve volunteers , lead by Capt Beckie and Officer Karen that work inside the prison that make sure that the program is running smoothly. They are excellent in helping with labeling, documenting all the supplies that we have sent in and they have organised the routine of the outside people who come in to help educate the inmates in training and dog care. 

Brenda Cirricione from Oshkosh is the director of training and organizer of the volunteers.  There is a great team of volunteer trainers, groomers and socializers who have made the commitment  to help.  Brenda and her volunteers are doing an excellent job.  Having so many good people to help the Oshkosh program is wonderful. 

S.K.Y. has left a new comment on your post "~PAWS FORWARD PRISON DOG PROGRAM ~ OSHKOSH CORRE...":

Sister Pauline,

I'm a volunteer trainer with the new Oshkosh program, and appreciate the tremendous time and effort you made, along with the Schultzes, to get the program started. As you mentioned, Captain Becky and Officer Karen have also devoted a lot of work to keeping the program running smoothly.

I just did an all-day clicker training workshop at the prison yesterday and was so impressed with the progress of the inmates and their dogs. Some have been working with their dogs for about 4 weeks, while one inmate's dog was delivered a few minutes before the workshop started. A couple of other inmates borrowed guide dog trainees from trainers. No matter whether they'd just met the dog or had been training it for a month, all the inmates were genuinely caring and affectionate with the dogs, and are using all positive training methods.

I'm happy to be part of a program that benefits the inmates (by giving them a way to help others; and also for improved career prospects later), the dogs, and the future blind or disabled recipients of the dogs.

Great work, Sister Pauline. You're amazing!

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