Warner Creek Correctional Facility (WCCF) has started a new dog training program with support from Rhonda Dial of Animal House.
Dial said that she has had the idea of working with WCCF to start a dog training program at the correctional facility for the past couple of years. She saw a similar program while she was incarcerated at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.
Lisa Hammonds, work programs coordinator at Warner Creek Correctional Facility, said that many Oregon Department of Corrections facilities have a similar type of dog training program and that WCCF was looking at starting its own. In other parts of Oregon, the corrections facilities traditionally work with local humane societies or rescue groups.
“The initial idea of having a dog training program at WCCF was near the opening of the facility. The idea was looked at a number of times, but a combination of timing and resources led to the program not beginning until now,” said Hammonds.
Dial and WCCF received support from Dick Haines and his nonprofit New Hope for Eastern Oregon Animals that he operates out of Baker City. Haines works on a similar program at the Powder River Correctional Facility. Both Hammonds and Dial said that Haines was a valuable source of information during the process of getting the program up and running.
“The dog training program is similar to our other work programs. We do interviews, background checks, and an application process,” said Hammonds.
Currently there are seven adults in custody participating in the program. Hammonds said that the adults in custody are learning what it takes to care for a dog, obedience training, proper care and feeding of the dog and looking at the health signals the dog exhibits. Hammonds said it helps the adults in custody learn what it takes to be a responsible pet owner. One of the adults in custody said that he used to have a chihuahua and that he enjoys working with the program’s dog — Thelma.
Adults in custody work in pairs taking care of Thelma and learning how to work with her. There is a dog run in the yard, where adults in custody can play with Thelma when she is off the leash. The adults in custody walk her, clean the kennel, feed her and more.
Thelma is the only dog in the program currently but will soon be joined by another dog. There is room for up to three dogs to be housed in a kennel at WCCF.
“Everyone is so excited for the program. From day one of the program there has been a change on the yard when Thelma is out with her handlers. It has helped to provide a sense of home, normalcy and comfort for the adults in custody,” said Hammonds.
She said that one of the goals is to help build empathy when the adults in custody are interacting with people and that it will help to translate when they are released from custody. Working with Thelma
promotes compassion, teamwork, and other qualities that will make a difference in the AICs’ lives after they are released.
Dial teaches a class three days a week at WCCF, where she takes the time to teach the adults in custody hands on training with Thelma. She also uses a book to teach skills. The classes are generally about 90 minutes.
Dial said that the program has improved morale at WCCF and that Thelma is the perfect dog for the program as she is young, receptive to teaching and has an excellent disposition. Thelma’s kennel is kept near the housing units at WCCF, and the adults in custody will visit her in the evening to make sure she goes outside for bathroom breaks and gets exercise.
“Thelma is an excellent first dog for the program, and I am excited about getting more dogs in the program,” said Dial.
She credited the support of Haines in helping set up the program, including providing textbooks for the adults in custody to learn how to train a dog. The next dog will be Jack, who should be at WCCF in the coming weeks.
Hammonds and Dial are both enthusiastic about the program and the positive effect it has had on the adults in custody at WCCF. Growth of the program and tailoring it to the specific needs of the adults in custody at WCCF is a work in progress and something that Dial and the administration at WCCF are working on together.