(Permission to reissue, courtesy of Rick Torgerson, Publisher, The Upcountry News, March 2017, Vol 16, No. 3)
Written by Ruth Gottstein
Usually, my fellow columnist Danny Udseth, writes about dogs. Normally, I wouldn’t invade his territory and hope he forgives me!
An iconic fixture in Amador county, Margaret ‘Margé’ Blair (AKA “The Dog Whisperer”), along with a dedicated group of volunteers, brings dogs to Jackson Gardens among other assisted care facilities. Contact with these furry friends uplifts the spirits of the residents who might not otherwise have any contact with animals. On a recent visit, Margé shared with me a program that I in turn, wanted to share with all of you. But first, a little background.
Margé is a certified dog trainer who has been training and problem solving professionally since 1991, at her ranch, Twin Cedars K-9, located east of Jackson. She also breeds and trains working line German Shepherd dogs for search and rescue, law enforcement, obedience, therapy work -- and great family pets.
She recently told me that in early 2014, officials from the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) approached a group based in Santa Monica called Karma Rescue, with a unique opportunity: could we help them develop a training program inside one of our state prisons that would pair inmates with rescued shelter dogs? While similar programs have been developed across the country, “Paws For Life” is California’s first and only program in a high-security prison involving inmates serving life-term sentences.
“Paws For Life” brings rescued shelter dogs to live full-time with inmates at California State Prison, in Los Angeles County. Over a twelve-week cycle, inmates will learn from Karma Rescue trainers how to train our rescue dogs for “Canine Good Citizen” certification.
Once a dog earns this designation, the chance for successful adoption increases – as does the ability to rescue another shelter animal in its place. The inmates also benefit: beyond the rehabilitative therapy of a dog’s presence, they are learning “real world” skills and connecting to a larger humanitarian process outside of the prison walls. This program gives them a way to contribute back to society by helping a dog get a second chance at life.
On June 1, 2014, Karma Rescue brought five shelter dogs to the prison. Men who had not seen an animal in decades were openly emotional at the sight of the beautiful creatures before them. Just petting our dogs brought many to happy tears.
In 2016 Karma Rescue started the same program at Mule Creek State Prison and Rehabilitation. The five dogs were chosen from the Amador County Animal Control and Adoption Center and then placed in the prison with the inmate trainers. Each animal had three to four trainers who socialized and trained the dogs. By the end of the twelve week program, the trainers and dogs were administered the AKC “Canine Good Citizen” test. The Mule Creek program is currently working with their second class who will graduate on April 18, 2017. The goal with this class is to have local families adopt the dogs by graduation day.
Margé also provided some updated facts:
• 93 dogs trained and adopted out to date.
• Lancaster prison now has twelve dogs and 37 men in the program.
• Mule Creek has five dogs and 17 men.
(Photo/graphics from KarmaRescue.org web site)