The last Creature Comforts column explored the Mutts with Manners program at Northpoint Training Center in Burgin. A similar inmate/shelter dog program is held at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, called Camp Canine.
Designed by the Humane Society of Oldham County, these training classes consist of dogs given a second chance by being pulled from shelters in Oldham, Henry, Trimble, and Shelby counties, as well as eastern Kentucky. They recently celebrated their four-year anniversary, and have graduated 290 dogs from Camp Canine. Wendy Compton, an administrative specialist at Luther Luckett, coordinates the program in this medium-security facility that houses more than 1,000 inmates. She oversees the 12 trainers who work with the dogs, and coordinates food, medicine, and any special needs of the dogs.
“This is where I refer people who are looking for a dog,” she says. “We promote them on Facebook and Petfinder, but we’re always looking for more publicity and referrals. This is just one of our programs to help inmates with their re-entry into society.”
Michelle Culp, president of the Humane Society and Camp Canine manager, says, “We’re lucky to have Wendy. When people are interested in a dog, they come to Luther Luckett and Wendy handles the meet-and-greets. This way, the dogs are better matched with a family, and as a result, we have a less than 1 percent return rate.”
Camp Canine has received nothing but enthusiasm at the facility. Warden Greg Howard, who adopted one of these dogs himself, says, “This program is beneficial not just for the dogs, but for the public also. And for some of these inmates, it’s the first time for them to love something and expect nothing back. The dog I adopted has had a great impact on my life, and this program has been the brightest part of my career here.”
At Camp Canine, inmates must obtain what is known as “meritorious status” to qualify as a trainer. The trainers also live with their dogs in a separate wing. Professional trainers come to the prison three times a month, and the dogs are rotated so that all trainers work with all dogs. As Wendy notes, “All dogs have different demeanors, they react differently to different people. We want these dogs to be well-rounded, and we take their training slow. Some dogs are overwhelmed at first, so there is no time limit to their training: however long it takes, weeks or months, that’s how long the dog will stay in training.”
Michelle adds, “We treat each dog as an individual, consider that dog’s individual needs. And we’re careful about the dogs we bring into the program: each dog is temperament-tested, and we’ll remove any dog that is dog-aggressive.”
Lisanne Mikan of the Humane Society of Oldham County says, “Camp Canine is really a journey, a comprehensive effort that impacts many. The Humane Society enables discarded dogs to escape euthanasia, and the dogs repay that debt by helping to rehabilitate an inmate. And then the dog will get a family who appreciates the unending love and companionship that dogs live to give.”
As at Northpoint Training Center, the inmates here are just as proud of their dogs and what they are working toward: finding homes for well-trained, well-adjusted dogs that might otherwise have never known a home, or even be considered adoptable. A visit to their wing feels much like being in a college dorm, with dogs milling around and inmates bringing out pictures of the dogs they’ve worked with. And they are all eager to talk about their experiences here, lining up to tell their story and talk about their dogs. Indeed, their words tell the story better than any publicity article:
Jason (Lolly): “I’ve changed a lot here. I used to be wild, now I have something to care about, something to look forward to. Some of these dogs used to be scared, beaten. All they needed was love, and they leave here with a wagging tail.”
David (Bella): “I’ve learned responsibility, learned to reach out to animals. It’s been good rehab for me, so I can have the better future I hope for. The dogs are hard to give up, but the next day there’s always another one. It’s a loss, yeah, but I have pictures for memories.”
Doug (Ben): “This has helped me build relationships, working with dogs, and to me they’re more than pets. Different dogs have different needs—just like people.”
Michael (Jake): “This has taught me to care about something more important than your reputation or image. I now have a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It teaches you to get in touch with your own feelings. Look at Jake: he grew up in a shelter and he had a hard time transitioning here. When he first came here, he didn’t even know how to play. Now he’s a well-socialized dog.”
Nicholas (Fonzi): “I’ve only been doing this for six weeks, but it feels good to give back, to do something positive, it gives me peace and tranquility. I absolutely want to do another dog—it may be my calling in life.”
Edward (Max): “These dogs are my best friends. I finally understand the phrase ‘man’s best friend.’ And I can tell you, they help us more than we help them: they’re good therapy.”
Joey (Teddy): “It was all negative aspects that brought me here, but Camp Canine has brought me a positive aspect. Those of us here come from broken paths, and so did these dogs. This program helps us both.”
Vontez (Beau): “Training dogs has given me a different perspective than I had as a troublemaker on the outside. This gives me patience, a sense of accomplishment. It’s taught me to be a better person. This is just as good for us as the dogs.”
Vernon (Jenny Mae): “I’ve been doing this since 2004. In fact, I was in Green River’s first program, trained their first dog. I transferred here specifically to be in Camp Canine, and I’ve worked with 250 dogs.”
Kenny (Wiggles): “It’s changed my outlook on responsibility, caring for a living, breathing creature. It’s great to know we’re giving them a second chance…just like they’re giving us a second chance.”
For more information about adopting a dog from Camp Canine, contact the Humane Society of Oldham County at (502) 222-7537 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Paula Sparrow