Orleans prison celebrates first class of canine training program by inmates

Photos by Tom Rivers: R. Monroe, an inmate at the Orleans Correctional Facility, works with Serena, a pit bull that has been at the prison the past 13 weeks. Monroe has been a handler for the dog, teaching Serena obedience and socialization. The dog is now available to be adopted.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 October 2018 at 10:28 pm

T. Jones and Richie formed a tight bond through the canine training program.

ALBION – Officials at the Orleans Correctional Facility celebrated the first class of a canine training program where inmates served as handlers for rescue dogs.

The debut class lasted 13 weeks. The three dogs that were taught obedience and socialization are now available to be adopted to a “forever family.”

One of the dogs, Richie, already has been adopted by a family. Richie will join them on Thursday.

T. Jones, Richie’s handler, said he lost 10 pounds through the program, by walking the dog and leading it through the obedience training. Jones said his blood pressure also went down.

More importantly, he said, he welcomed the chance to be responsible and care for an animal.

“I’ve learned to be patient and caring,” Jones told a crowd during today’s graduation ceremony. “I hope all of the dogs find their forever home.”

He thanked the prison administration for adding the program.

“The program means a lot to me,” Jones said. “I hope Richie got as much out of it as I did.”

Karen Crowley, the OCF superintendent, pushed to have the program in the local men’s prison. She visited other prisons with similar programs and found the dogs improved the culture in a prison, with better-behaved inmates. The inmates also proved to be attentive and dedicated to helping train the dogs.

“It changes the inmate,” she said. “It teaches them responsibility and compassion, and we save the dogs.”

Inmates painted murals in a classroom that is used for training the dogs. This mural has a large paw print and says, “Saving Lives, One Dog at a Time.”

Crowley visited prisons in Georgia, North Dakota and South Dakota to see the programs. The program is uncommon in New York State. Crowley said Groveland Correctional Facility also has one, and the Albion Correctional Facility expects to have its program going by the end of the year.

The three dogs at the OCF come from either a shelter in Tennessee or the Genesee County Animal Shelter in Batavia. The Albion Correctional Facility expects to have a partnership with the Orleans County Animal Shelter in Albion, said Susan Squires, the prison superintendent.

Squires and leaders from other prisons and the state Department of Corrections attended the graduation today and toured the training area.

Tom Ryan, a dog trainer from Batavia, stopped by the Orleans prison once or twice a week to teach obedience classes. He praised the three main handlers and eight secondary handlers for their commitment to the animals. Two other inmates also helped walk the dogs.

The three dogs wait for direction from their handlers. Tom Ryan, second from right, led the obedience classes.

Ryan said the dogs in the program are often “problem dogs with big issues.” The dogs need a lot of attention. He worked with the inmates to teach the dogs impulse control. They wanted the dogs to stay on their mats, even when their handlers walked away.

“It has been a real pleasure to work with these guys and these dogs,” Ryan said during the graduation ceremony. “These dogs are well on their way to being dogs you can totally trust in a home.”

Karen Crowley, superintendent of the Orleans Correctional Facility, said the canine training program is good for inmates and the dogs. An inmate created the chalk art of the dogs that are displayed behind Crowley.

The three animals stayed in one of the dorms that has about 50 inmates. The first weekend at the prison, the dogs barked a lot. But then they calmed down. The dogs slept on a mat and stayed overnight with their handlers.

Krista Vasile, deputy superintendent of programs, said the dogs had a noticeable impact on the dorm and the prison as a whole.

“It changed the atmosphere of E-1 (the dorm),” she said. “It will be bittersweet to say goodbye to the dogs because we’ve fallen in love with them.”

Crowley said six more dogs will be in the next canine training class, which starts in about two weeks.

The program will also be expanded to include more inmates, who are all interviewed by a committee and must have exemplary discipline records and be committed to educational programs.

She is hoping the program has a long future at the facility.

Inmates in the Painting & Decorating class painted a dog theme inside one of the buildings which is serving as an indoor dog park. The large painted mural transformed what was an ordinary-looking classroom into a relaxed environment for the handlers and the dogs, said Crowley, the prison superintendent.

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