Puppies Up for Parole program brings dogs, inmates together | NevadaAppeal.com

Puppies Up for Parole program brings dogs, inmates together

Sandi Hoover
Shannon Litz/Nevada Appeal Fred Stites works on teaching Banjo a trick on Friday at the Nevada State Prison. Both are part of the Puppies Up for Parole program to help shelter dogs become more adoptable.

Violet, a pit bull mix puppy at the Carson City Animal Shelter was so timid, the folks at the shelter had to carry her to Anita Habberfield’s truck.

Today you wouldn’t recognize her. After only three weeks working with an inmate dog handler in the Puppies Up for Parole program, Violet is a new dog.

“She’s house broken, she walks on a leash, and she’s walking around with her tail up and happy,” said Anita Habberfield, volunteer coordinator for the program.

Habberfield, a former employee at the prison who worked with the PUPs program, retired in May and received permission to continue with the PUPs program as volunteer coordinator.

“The program opened in 2002, we’ve expanded it recently to include dogs from the shelter, and it has been a very successful partnership,” she said.

There are nine inmates who have qualified to become dog handlers, she said, and the dogs live with them.

“Only model inmates can participate. Their education has to be complete, they have to express an interest in the program, they have to go through an interview process, and they cannot have had any behavioral problems – they have to have a stellar record.”

Inmates at the medium-security facility have some freedom to move around the prison, she said, so the dogs get lots of attention.

Most handlers start out as dog sitters who act as assistants to the handler when the handler is busy with something else.

“The inmates have to demonstrate their ability, and we have zero tolerance for any bad behavior. The inmate would be written up and transferred off the yard if anything happened,” Habberfield said.

“This is a one man, one dog, one cell program for each dog,” she said. “The dog is crate-trained, house broken, and learns basic commands like sit, shake and roll over. Some really smart dogs have even learned to play hide and seek.”

If a handler is paroled, discharged or terminated from the program for any reason, a dog sitter will be considered as a handler for the program.

“Those dogs get a tremendous amount of attention and training, and that’s just what they need,” Habberfield said.

That was precisely the case for Violet, she said.

“I had to carry her into the prison, and the first thing she did was poop and pee on the handler’s bed. Now she’s a different dog. All she needed was someone to really devote time to her 24/7 to get over being afraid of everything,” she said.

Habberfield said she couldn’t do without partners

One of them is Susan Paul, president of the Carson Tahoe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“She really helps by bringing the dogs to Petsmart and coordinating successful adoptions,” she said.

Paul said dogs can be adopted from the Nevada Department of Corrections website or from the SPCA’s site or at adoption clinics.

“We put pictures of the dogs up on our website, and the notices are scattered to nine other sites,” Paul said.

“With us, it’s all about the adoption, and PUPs is a really great program,” Paul said.

Once a dog is adopted, there will be an opening in the PUPs program, and that’s where the program’s other partner comes in – the city’s animal shelter employees.

Tonya Ruffner, the animal shelter’s volunteer coordinator, makes sure any dogs who go into the program are healthy, spayed or neutered, current on their shots and microchipped.

She and the shelter’s supervisor, Shadow Kelly, identify which shelter dog would be a good candidate to go into the program.

“We look for dogs that would have trouble getting adopted because they are kennel-crazy or having difficulty adjusting to the shelter or they have no manners and jump up on people because they’re so excited,” Ruffner.

“This is really an amazing program. My gosh, they’re like totally different dogs after they go through the program,” she said.

Habberfield said it can be difficult for the inmates when their dog is adopted, but they understand that’s how the program operates.

“They’re aware from the beginning that the dog will be adopted someday, and it’s sad, because they can get really attached, but it’s their way to make amends to society,” she said.