Humane Society and Larch Corrections celebrate first ‘graduating’ class of dogs

This information was provided by the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.

YACOLT — The Humane Society for Southwest Washington (HSSW) and Larch Corrections Center (LCC) celebrated their first “graduating” class of foster dogs and offender dog handlers on Oct. 20.

The Larch Pet Training Camp was created so that people, cats and now dogs, along with offenders, have second chances. HSSW identified five dogs in the shelter that needed help with basic family manners. Each dog was paired with two offender dog handlers who were tasked with training and socialization.

Humane Society and Larch Corrections celebrate first ‘graduating’ class of dogs
The Humane Society for Southwest Washington and Larch Corrections Center celebrated their first “graduating” class of foster dogs and offender dog handlers on Oct. 20. Photo courtesy of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington

The dogs arrived at LCC the last week of August, and in a few short weeks, all of the dogs were leash trained, knew basic canine commands and are now ready for adoption. One dog was adopted immediately following the graduation and others have “matchmaking” meetings with prospective adopters over the next several days.

“The Humane Society is all about second chances for stray animals,” said Stacey Graham, HSSW president. “Now together, dogs and their inmate dog handlers are getting a second chance. We are so proud of the staff, volunteers and handlers for coming together as a team and helping these dogs get ready for their new families.”

Training and education for the offender handlers began in early summer long before the dogs actually arrived at LCC. The foundation for the program is teaching leadership and cooperation, as well as specific dog-handling skills. Several of the handlers went beyond the HSSW training, reading books about both dog training and behavior, to enhance their skills. At the graduation ceremony, each offender handler shared stories about his foster dog and about the impact this experience had on his own life.

One handler said: “This is a way to give back from inside of here.” Another said: “It’s a chance to make the world a better place, one dog at a time.” And yet another said, in talking specifically about dog training styles: “Leadership is the opposite of force.”

Lisa Oliver-Estes, superintendent at LCC, touts the effectiveness of such programs in prison populations after watching the program at the Washington State Penitentiary within the close custody population.

“An offender with severe anxiety and depression issues over his life sentence was able to transform through the dog program,” Oliver-Estes said. By the end of his first rotation as a dog handler, he was off of his medications, more communicative with staff and offenders and managing his time in a positive fashion. He was healed by the dogs he cared for and trained and, in turn, gave these pups another opportunity to be loved by a family in the community. You can’t put a price on that.”

Humane Society and Larch Corrections celebrate first ‘graduating’ class of dogs
Two inmate dog handlers at Larch Corrections Center pose for a picture with the pup they worked with, 5-year-old Porter. Photo courtesy of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington

Oliver-Estes went on to say that at Larch Corrections Center, the offenders are within four years of release.

“The dogs grow to love and trust their handlers unconditionally,” she said. “This is sometimes the first time these men have ever felt that type of connection.”

In experiencing that connection, offenders are more apt to transfer the positive skills learned through this program to aid in the reunification with their families and their communities, making it a “win-win.”

While these dogs arrived by at HSSW looking for their new families, a new group of dogs will be headed to LCC to meet their handlers and start the learning process again.

Community partnerships with HSSW and LCC creates not only an opportunity for animals to find their forever homes, it also provides opportunities for offenders to gain many tools to help them successfully re-enter into society, promoting safer communities.

Anyone interested in meeting these “graduate” dogs should email adoptions@southwesthumane.org.

About The Author

Joanna Nicole Yorke is a 2010 graduate of the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in political science. Yorke is a Clark County native, growing up on her family's 12-acre farm in La Center where her family still resides today. She was previously a reporter at The Reflector Newspaper, covering the city of Battle Ground, the Battle Ground School District and a variety of other areas and topics.

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