We had a lovely group go down to see the Tender Loving Canine Training program in action behind bars at Donovan Correctional Facility. Those who attended were Jeanne Norling, Sandra Coufal, Sandra Zarcades and her daughter, Sandy, and Gillian Gillies.
The group was met by Victoria Cavaliere and Karen Schultz of Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs (TLCAD) at the flag pole of the entrance to the prison. The Warden, Daniel Paramo, came out to meet us and joined us on the tour. Security was tight, we were not allowed to bring anything in but our identification and sunglasses, no phones or purses.
We walked through several 20-foot-high barbed wire fence gates that were controlled by the tower. We then moved to a yard that confined level three inmates. The prison was on lock down as they searched for weapons so the yard and cell areas were eerily quiet. We met in the chapel where eight prisoners met us with four service dogs in training along with three dog trainers from TLCAD. Each dog has two trainers, a lead and back-up. Each prisoner/dog trainer demonstrated the skills they had taught their dog such as fetch, sit, down, and tug. The tug skill is used to open drawers, refrigerators and doors.
The prisoner/dog trainers were so gentle and patient with the dogs as they gave commands and reinforced constantly with treats. Only positive reinforcement is used throughout the training program.
This is a remarkable program where both the prisoner, the recipient of the dog, staff at the prison as well as other prisoners all benefit from having dogs trained at the facility. The time to train a service dog is 6 months at a prison versus 18 months to 2 years outside a prison. The program hopes to expand to include more yards in the prison with the potential to train up to 30 dogs at a time.
Well done ladies for funding such a fabulous program!!