The day was clear and bright as six puppies, the first graduating class from the Nevada State Prison's "Puppies on Parole" program, got their walking papers.
Inmate Joe Maresca said the time he's spent with his dog, a 5-month-old hound mix named Sierra, has helped him more than the dog. The hardest part of training, is giving her up.
The puppy sat quietly Friday by his side, panting in the afternoon heat and watching the commotion as Nevada Humane Society officials, TV camera men and prison officials hovered and stroked the puppies.
"I've been in here 17 years," Maresca said. "This is a great program for prisoners. I got such satisfaction, doing something nice for a change."
Seventy of the approximately 700 inmates at the Nevada State Prison applied for the volunteer program. Eight were chosen. A blend of offenders, most of them long-term inmates, were able to provide stability for the animals and help standardize the process.
The puppies will be available for adoption through the Humane Society.
"I'd do this again in a minute," said inmate Ben Mendiluce. "It takes my mind of the stuff in prison, knowing someone's here who loves and trusts me."
Of the seven puppies in the first graduating class, five have found homes, but Taz and Turbo still are looking.
Susan Asher, spokeswoman for the society said the diligent work of the inmates has turned the tables for these dogs.
"No one wanted them," she said. "They jumped, barked and charged the gate. People tend to want the dogs with more socialization. I'm so excited about this program. It means so much for the staff."
She said there are plans to expand the program in other areas, including women's prison facilities and in Las Vegas.
"Any of these animal groups could partner with the local prison," she said. "These needs exist at every shelter."
Inmates received training on how to properly housebreak and redirect bad habits such as chewing. They taught basic obedience commands and good manners using positive reinforcement.
The project is housed in cell block five, once known as death row. The inmates hold jobs at the prison, but spend the balance of their time with the puppies, their mission to socialize and teach basic commands.
The dogs range in age from 4 months to 3 years, and are mostly outside animals that have had little or no attention or training.
Those interested in adopting a trained dog or puppy can apply at the Nevada Humane Society, 200 Kresge Way, Sparks. For information, call 331-5770.
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