For six weeks, among the rows of bunks at the James A Musick Facility, sat two kennels. The dogs, Diesel and Hershey, from the OC Animal Shelter classified as “last chance” due to behavioral issues, were given their one last chance from an unlikely source. Go to jail, be trained by inmates, and have a second chance at adoption.
Three inmates at Musick, Orange County’s minimum security jail, were chosen for the Canines Offering Life Lessons And Rewards (COLLAR) program. After six weeks of classroom instructions from volunteer Janette Thomas, the inmates were able to bring the dogs into their dorm-style cells for six weeks. Thomas visited weekly, providing continued training for the inmates and monitoring their progress.
On a sunny May morning, the inmates gathered with their dogs for COLLAR Graduation. Their attitudes were atypical of what you normally expect of inmates- all three were upbeat, gently tugging on the leashes of their canine friends, eager to showcase the tricks and commands Diesel and Hershey now follow. Thomas presented the inmates with certificates of completion, and each took a turn demonstrating the commands the dogs perform without hesitation- sit, go-around, down, roll over, and high-five.
Each spoke of how the COLLAR program changed both them and the dynamic within their Mod. One inmate, a male set to be released within the week, said “It was amazing how protective the other inmates were of the dogs. At first, we were worried we would have to be protecting them (the dogs) in the bunks. By the end of the program, the guys were coming up to pet them goodbye.”
In addition to training the dogs, the inmates learned skills they can use after their release. They will leave with knowledge about animals, training and grooming that could assist them with future employment opportunities. They will also cultivate leadership skills, as they will assist in training the next group of inmates in the COLLAR program.
Director of Inmate Services Greg Boston sees the benefit to programs like COLLAR. “It’s been nothing but positive for the dogs, OC Animal Care, the deputies, and the inmates,” Boston said. “Programs like these benefit the whole community.”
Thomas says she wants to create positive change for both the dog and the inmate. “I’d like to empower them all to make good choices,” she said.
Rounding out the experience, both Hershey and Diesel have been adopted to “fur-ever” families.
The COLLAR program at Musick has started its second round with nine inmates and three dogs. They will graduate in September.