Teaching each other: Warm Springs’ program aims to break another adoption record
Warm Springs Correctional Facility inmate Danny Shaw has a new puppy, a 4-month-old pit bull born with three paws and a 2-inches-shorter stub where her fourth should be.Bonnie, so named because she looks like she’s wearing a bonnet, sits still at Shaw’s feet, head pointed up. Bonnie came in shy, skittish and unsocialized, a far bark from the dog sitting in the Puppies up for Parole wing at the correctional facility.“She’s amazing now,” Shaw said. Shaw has been in the Puppies up for Parole program since 2009, and Bonnie is his 18th dog. Two of his former dogs were featured in an August story in the Nevada Appeal. Those two dogs had slightly special needs and were adopted out of El Dorado County’s animal shelter in California. Chase had obsessive-compulsive disorder and Frank, a 5-year-old Catahoula Leopard Hound, needed a strong and stubborn owner.The program has expanded its capacity from 16 handlers in August to 18 — an entire wing of a housing unit. The program started in 2002 at the defunct Nevada State Prison before moving to Warm Springs.“If I had the space, I would dedicate an entire unit” to the program, Warden Gregory Smith said.When puppies come to the Carson City Animal Services shelter, they usually are whisked away to the wing of the Warm Springs housing unit to be taught manners and basic commands, and to be housebroken.“It’s just a great place to send puppies,” said Tonya Ruffner, Animal Services volunteer coordinator. “They come back housebroken, with manners … most of the puppies are ready (to be adopted) after two to three weeks. They haven’t developed those bad behaviors.”NEW TRAINER IN TOWNSome handlers owe their skills to a new trainer at the facility. Terri Dickerson joined the program in October after talking to Animal Services officials at an event.However, Dickerson said she has learned from the inmates, too.“I tell them I don’t know everything,” she said. “My whole goal in this is to give them more tools in their tool belt.”Dickerson is working on bringing an agility course to the program.“Dogs learn trust, to deal with unfamiliar things, obedience,” she said about the course. Part of a course already has been installed: upturned buckets for the dogs to sit on.One dog, Wilbur, a small puppy, has the stubborn in him. Wilbur is Correctional Officer Craig Madieros’ favorite at the moment, Madieros said as he watched Wilbur refuse to budge from the upturned bucket. He’d been told to sit and stay, and he was not moving for the world. Madieros oversees the day-to-day operations of the Puppies up for Parole program and has spearheaded it, in the words of his boss, Smith.HIGH STANDARDSBy August, Smith had set his year-end adoptions goal at 100 dogs. When the new year rolled in, the program had beat that number by two, eclipsing the fewer than 50 adoptions in 2011. This year, program members aim for 150 adoptions.“We’ve been pulling dogs from other shelters,” Ruffner said. “We’ve pulled dogs from Lyon County and Washoe County.”Having the dogs housed at the prison instead of the animal shelter frees up 18 of the shelter’s kennels for other dogs, allowing overflow dogs from other counties to be housed there.HEALING POWER OF FURSky is a Husky mix with white eyes, the outside of her iris rung with pale blue, her coat a pale tan. Handler Steve Byers said she was brought to the shelter as a problem dog, tearing up the inside and outside of her former house, unable to follow even basic commands.Now, “she gets along with the puppies, with the other dogs. She just needs a lot of exercise,” he said. “I can leave her for hours and come back and she’s all happy. You can let her loose in the yard.”Kayla is a 1-year-old lab mix. She was extremely skittish when she arrived, handler Todd Adolphus said. He has been working in the program since 2003, with a two-year hiatus. Adolphus has been in prison for 19 years and said he has seen change in himself after working with the dogs. While the inmates might be teaching the dogs manners and obedience, they’re learning patience and understanding.“It helps us to grow,” he said.HOW TO ADOPTTo view pictures and more information about Puppies up for Parole dogs, go to http://www.doc.nv.gov/?q=node/173. To adopt a dog, call the shelter at 775-887-2171 or the prison at 775-684-3007.