21 April 2009

Inmates Working to Train Dogs for Adoption

Buddy, Rex and Storm are all fine-looking dogs, worthy of good homes with loving families. All they need is some polishing of their rough edges, drilling on how to behave well in polite company. And that's what they are getting at the Forsyth Correctional Center.

Four inmates — Dorsey Lemon Jr., 21; DeWarren Carter, 32; Bobby Driver, 38; and Ricky Hall, 50 — are the first local participants in "A New Leash on Life," a dog-training program for inmates at minimal- and medium-security custody at state prisons. Prisons partner with animal shelters and animal-welfare agencies to train dogs in order to prepare them to be adopted.

Statewide, 735 dogs had completed the program by March 1, and 683 of those had been adopted. Here, the inmates are working with dogs from the Forsyth Humane Society, with instruction from trainers with the Winston-Salem Dog Training Club. Lemon, Carter and Hall each have a dog assigned to them. Driver works with all three.

The dogs live in a small building, the Loving Buddies Training Center, and also train outside in a fenced area. The inmates spend most of their waking hours with their dogs — training them, grooming them and just loving them.

"I tell him something two or three times, and he learns it," said Lemon, who is paired with Storm, a German shepherd.

Lemon calls Storm his best friend. "I'm not just teaching him; he's teaching me," Lemon said. He takes his cues from how Storm acts and said he is learning to do the same with people, looking beyond their words and judging them more by their actions.

As he watched the inmates work, David Boswell, the prison's assistant superintendent, talked about how the program teaches the prisoners respect and responsibility and gives them tools that could help them find work when they are released.

Melissa Ball, the humane society's adoption-center manager, and others are evaluating the next group of dogs to be trained. Those dogs will move to the prison within 48 hours of the graduations of Rex, Buddy and Storm. Ball and the inmate trainers know how hard it will be for the men to say goodbye to their constant companions.

"I don't even want to think about it," Lemon said.

[Source: statesville.com]