They are the throwaways, the ones with behavior problems so severe nobody wants them, the ones who get locked up, tossed aside and put down.
But thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Sequim-based Welfare For Animals Guild and a dedicated group of prisoners incarcerated at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, local rescue dogs are getting a second chance.
WAG is a nonprofit dog rescue that places the dogs in foster homes until they are adopted. But some dogs have no obedience training, no manners and are so ill-behaved they are considered unadoptable.
Page Blanton, program specialist at CBCC, contacted WAG a year ago about starting a dog training program at the prison after seeing similar programs having great success at other penitentiaries. This March, the program started with three unruly dogs and 12 inmates eager to learn how to train the dogs and just have the opportunity to pet them, some for the first time in a decade or more.
“They were really set and ready to go,” said Barb Brabant, WAG volunteer and assistant trainer. The prison installed a dog wash and other amenities to care for the dogs and of course it already had large, fenced yards, she said.
Under the instruction of Judith Bell, owner of BeauJes Dog Training, seven dogs have graduated from the training program, which lasts six to seven weeks, and all have been adopted.
“It’s remarkable the progress they make with these animals,” Bell said.
Brabant said the dogs live with the prisoners in their cells during the program and receive lots of attention, in many cases more positive attention than they’ve ever experienced.
The inmates work with the dogs, who are very challenging, every day, she said.
Blanton said since the program started, violence in the unit has decreased dramatically and he has seen positive changes in the inmates involved.
“They have to deal with their own behaviors to deal with the dogs’ behavior,” he said.
Some inmates, upon release, have sought employment working with animals after the positive experience of training the WAG dogs, Blanton said.
Bell said one offender, upon leaving the prison, shook her hand and said, “Thank you. I will use what I’ve learned here in my life.”
The program has 24 openings for inmates but is very selective about who can participate, Blanton said.
“To the offenders, it is a privilege to be in the program,” he said.
The program doesn’t have much of a budget, with food and veterinary visits paid for by WAG’s limited funds, so inmates have taken it upon themselves to do fundraisers to pay for the dogs’ needs.
Blanton said offenders who aren’t even involved in the program are wanting to donate.
“That’s how much they value it,” he said.
One of the goals of the program is to cause fewer people to come back to prison and to get them out better than they came in, he said.
“The whole atmosphere has completely changed,” he said. “You can feel it.”
One of the most challenging dogs to enter the program was Lacey, who spent the early months of her life chained to a tree with a too-small dog house. All she knew was pulling on her chain and barking, Brabant said.
Lacey was among the first dogs to enter the program in March and was adopted by an officer from the prison July 25, Brabant said.
Another dog, named Sophie, was found as a young, fearful stray who needed extra time and training before she was ready to be adopted. The highly distracted dog was a difficult pupil but with lots of patience, love and high level treats, she graduated with the “good citizenship” diploma and was adopted by a family who re-named her Kitsap.
So far, the dogs in the program have had people wanting to adopt them before they’ve even graduated, Brabant said.
Blanton said the prison would like to increase the number of dogs in the program. There are currently five at the prison.
WAG would like to see that, too, as it is difficult to find enough foster homes for the better-behaved dogs as it is.
The all-volunteer group is raising funds to purchase its own facility and $50,000 was donated by Sherie Maddox, who asked others to support the cause as well. The facility would be called Half Way Home Ranch and could save hundreds of dogs’ lives a year.
Brabant said WAG sometimes has to turn dogs away.
“It breaks your heart,” she said.
To learn more about WAG or to donate, go to www.welfare4animalsguild.org, call 460-6258 or mail a contribution to WAG, P.O. Box 3966, Sequim, WA, 98382.