News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 29, 2012

Rockville correctional facility program teaches life skills

Initiative trains dogs to be placed in outside homes

ROCKVILLE — It’s hard to know who benefits the most: the inmates or the dogs.

A small group of inmates at the Rockville Correctional Facility, a medium-security women’s prison in Parke County, is taking part in a program designed to make homeless dogs more attractive to adopt while teaching marketable skills to their human handlers.

“People are chomping at the bit to get some of these dogs,” said Heather Robertson, an official with the prison, which has a population of approximately 1,200 inmates. Only about seven dogs and nine inmates are in the program now. But eventually as many as 12 dogs and 15 handlers are expected to be part of the program, which is known as Animals Depending on Prison Time, or “ADOPT.”

The dogs, all shelter animals from the Clay and Parke-Vermillion humane societies, are paired with an inmate that matches the dog’s personality and who has qualified for the program. The inmate and dog are then thrust together for months of essentially constant training.

“She sleeps with me,” said Amber Lace of the dog she is training, Libby, a boxer-mix. Lace has several years of experience training dogs and is one of three “journey workers” in the program, meaning she teaches other inmates how to train their dogs.

The dogs are house-broken, socialized, taught to obey basic commands, some simple tricks and to walk calmly on a leash without pulling or tugging. After as much as six months, the dogs are returned to the shelters for adoption with certification that they have received training from the inmates.

“He’s really learning fast,” inmate Latrice King said of the dog she is training, Milo, a 5-month-old Lab-Burmese-Collie mix. Milo was dropped off at the shelter when his owners couldn’t care for him any more, she said.

“You’ve got to be patient and persistent” in training a dog, said Loreal Blackwell, who is paired with Camden, a Lab-Golden Retriever mix. “He’s so sweet. He’ll make somebody a really great pet.”

ADOPT is endorsed by the Indiana Department of Labor and those completing its approximately 4,000 hours of training will receive DOL certificates, something three inmates have already received through previous training.

The program costs taxpayers virtually nothing. Scott Pet Products of Rockville made the program possible at the Parke County facility by donating 12 dog crates, food bowls, leashes, toys and other equipment worth more than $1,000, Robertson said.

All dogs and trainers in the ADOPT program share a single room in one of the dormitories on the prison’s campus. The dogs often sleep with their handlers on bunk beds or on the floor next to their beds.

Although a close bond can develop between the dogs and the handlers, the inmates in the program said their main goal is to help find good, permanent homes for their animals.

“This is his first time out of a shelter environment,” said Karessa Garl, speaking of Thad, an energetic and good-natured small black dog from the Clay County Humane Society shelter. “I’m really wanting him to go to a home.”

The ADOPT program at the Rockville Correctional Facility is designed to run without taxpayer subsidies. Anyone interested in helping the program through a cash donation can contact Robertson at (765) 569-3178, ext. 420.

“He was a stray,” said Pamela Pruett speaking of Rodney, a compact Shepherd mix who was happily romping in the prison’s small “bark park” with the other dogs. “He’s a little sweetheart.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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