by Lee Juslin
A New Leash on Life is a program that brings together a number of local and regional institutions to benefit both incarcerated individuals and homeless dogs.
Although the program can be found throughout the United States, it has been particularly successful in Craven County, located in Eastern North Carolina. Here the county animal shelter carefully vets canine candidates for the four training spots available in each class while the Craven Correctional Institution, a medium security prison, just as carefully vets candidates for the handler positions.
The four primary handlers along with two assistant handlers are required to take a 120 hour veterinary assistant course offered by Craven Community College. The potential handlers study small animal anatomy, physiology, and behavior. In addition, the handlers are prepared with dog training skills by Drake Parker, a certified dog trainer, handler, and owner of Top Dog Academy in Greenville, NC. The dogs prepare for the eight week class with complete vetting including neuter or spay donated by a local veterinarian.
During the intensive training class dogs learn all the basics including sit, stay, come, down, etc. and earn their Canine Good Citizen or CGC titles at graduation. But, the class is not all work as dogs also learn some fun tricks such as Say Your Prayers, High Five, and Bow, all of which pave the way for adopters to establish long term bonds with the dogs.
The end goals of the program are to take abandoned dogs and prepare them for new, forever homes and provide some life skills for the human participants. Dogs in this program are already socialized with humans to some extent but often don’t know their names, can’t walk properly on a leash and, in short, do not have the manners and good behavior that would make them attractive as adoptees. Generally, the shelter staff looks for young, medium-sized dogs with an appealing appearance for the program.
For the handlers in the program, they have the fun of working with the dogs but also preparing themselves for a career as a dog trainer or veterinary assistant. Craven Community College offers a number of vocational training programs to the prison inmates and in some cases the dog training skills can be combined with another career like the former handler who trained in HVAC, was able to open his own business, and also offers specialized dog training on a part time basis.
Potential adopters are vetted as well. On-line applications are reviewed and handled by Pals for Paws, a local rescue organization. New parents attend the program graduation to meet, greet, and take over their dog. Since the CGC certificate goes with a particular handler/dog team, new owners are given a brochure with information on the CGC and strongly urged to take a refresher course to earn the title in their own names. They are also encouraged to reinforce the obedience training the dogs received during the eight week course through regular practice at home.
Recently the Craven County program had its forty-fifth graduation and in that time has re-homed nearly 200 dogs. In addition, the Craven program has been cited as best in the state by the North Carolina Dept. of Corrections, and, both the Craven County program and the State of NC, were recognized by the US Dept. of Labor for having the first, certified professional dog trainer to emerge from the program.
Perhaps the best part of this program, aside from its obvious success, is the cost which is $0 to taxpayers. The veterinary care for the dogs in the program is donated as well and the funds for supplies come from private donations.
All in all the program provides a new leash on life for the dogs as well as the human participants.
Read more animal related articles by Lee here in KRL.