Pet360, Inmates and Dogs Get a New Leash on LifeDecember 2012
Photo of Nicole Larocco and Turner courtesy of Jackie Bayne
by Temple, Courtney
A few weeks ago we told you about the 5th graduating class from the prison dog-training program, New Leash on Life. I had the chance to speak to dog trainer, Nicole Larocco, who works directly with the dogs and inmates from the program.
According to Larocco, the ultimate goal is to improve the lives of inmates and shelter dogs. This is done by pairing dogs at risk for euthanasia and inmates from the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Center in Northeast Philadelphia.
Each session volunteers select 6 dogs from local shelters due to space constraints. Personality plays a large role in the decision process. “It’s not their fault they are in the shelter. They are good and sweet dogs, but just come from troubled backgrounds,” Larocco says.
Once the dogs are selected to participate the volunteers are faced with the hard task of choosing names. The names given to the dogs are inspired by the time of year. Names have varied from jailed celebrities to Phillies players at spring training time. Next theme up, Valentine’s Day.
Dogs are then placed to live in the cells with two inmates, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. This encourages the interaction process between the humans and the dogs. “It‘s a win, win situation” Larocco says.
The inmates are given the opportunity to gain life skills that will help them when they are released from prison. They are provided with training from vet technicians and are taught about different dog breeds. In addition, they are able to work with a counselor on GED education and resume building skills.
The goal for the dogs is to socialize them to increase their adoptability. Dogs are taught basic obedience and other skills to make them desirable for adoption. Dogs must pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test before completion.
“Thanks to New Leash on Life, 58% of inmates are able to get internships in the animal world when they’re released. We want the inmates to be able to re-enter society without returning to prison,” she says.
Nicole has witnessed countless heart-warming stories throughout the years, but she holds a few near and dear. She re-counts one story about a dog named Turner from the scientist themed group. Turner was adopted by the Main Line Deputy Dog to work as a service dog because of the skills he learned from participating in the program. The Main Line Deputy Dog was so impressed with Turner that they adopted a dog named Mike from the next graduating class because Mike was already trained.
Another story Nicole recalls focuses on an inmate named Shawn who was very reserved and kept to himself. Shawn was paired with a dog named Peanut Chew from the candy themed group. With the help of Peanut Chew and the resources offered by the program he started to open up to others. Shawn even wrote a rap song about the dog training program and performed it in front of an audience.
Since 2011, New Leash on Life has been a success in making a difference in the lives of inmates and dogs. They are hoping to expand in the near future.
For more information on the New Leash on Life visit, newleashonlife-usa.org.