Inmate K-9 training program helps find homes for shelter dogs

RCACP received a $33,600 grant from PetSmart Charities to fund the program

ROANOKE – People and pets are getting a second chance through a new training program in Roanoke.

Thanks to a $33,600 grant from PetSmart Charities, the Roanoke pound, RCACP has begun what's called an in custody K-9 training program. The program began in January and uses two inmates from the Roanoke County-Salem Jail four days a week to work at the RCACP training dogs under the supervision of certified dog trainers with Angels of Assisi.

It’s a program the organization is hoping will improve the quality of life for Roanoke Valley residents and homeless animals. With this grant, RCACP will identify available dogs that need assistance with learning acceptable behavior skills and match them with an inmate trustee to learn those skills in the shelter environment

The hope is that dogs that have an opportunity to complete this training will master basic obedience skills, such as leash walking, sit, stay, etc.

Behind bars isn't a place these dogs or these inmates ever planned on being. Now, the program is giving both a second chance at making it outside successfully. Bobbie Wiggins, a certified dog trainer that’s helping with the program said it’s a win-win for both parties.

"It helps the inmates and it helps the dogs. The inmates get to see that small changes create something big. They have a really good understanding with the dogs because they are both in the same situation,” Wiggins said.

The inmates one-on-one work is used to train and socialize the dogs. Certified dog trainer Anne-Marie Transue said skills learned will make them more attractive to potential owners.

"We hope for adoptions for dogs that go into homes and stay into homes and aren't returned due to behavior issues,” Transue said. “I hope to see that these inmates have gained some confidence and learned a skill and some may even pursue that once they want to. They learn patience and compassion for other living creatures."

While dog training could be a potential career path for the inmates once they are released, Sheriff Eric Orange said working with the dogs is a major stress reliever while they are still incarcerated.

“Just through the therapy itself, being with the animals spending time with the animals, reducing those stress levels is going to have a greater impact on them in the long run,” Orange said.

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