Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 22, 2012

McDowell inmates help train, rehabilitate dogs to be adopted

WELCH — Prison inmates and homeless dogs have something in common — they both need to find new paths for their lives. A new program is helping both of them find that chance to start over again.

“We’ve teamed up with the federal correctional institution in McDowell County,” said Sharon Sagety, volunteer director of the McDowell County Humane Society Rescue in Superior. “We’re placing our dogs, four of our dogs at a time, in foster care at the camp and they’re trained by nonviolent inmates. They actually live at the camp with the inmates.”

The animal rescue organization furnishes everything the inmates need for the dogs. Inmates work with the dogs full time, and each dog is assigned a handler.

“The main goal of the program is for the dogs to be around people for socialization, crate training and house training. They do basic training,” Sagety said. “Volunteers from the Beckley Petsmart trained the inmate dog handlers on the basics, and the inmates keep a journal on every day’s activities and make notes on the progress of their dogs.”

Inmates have been working with the program for approximately six months, and the results have been good, Sagety said. Dogs that go through the program are placed in new homes.

“This program has been a huge success,” she said. “We get great reviews from families who have adopted dogs from this program.”

The rescue and the correctional system started working together after Sagety met Karen Hogsten, the warden of the facility for nonviolent inmates.

“She came by my house and she’s an avid animal lover, and she’s very community minded and asked if there was anything she could do to help,” Sagety recalled. “I asked if she could get inmates come to the rescue to help with the cleaning and keep up with the maintenance of the shelter.”

Four inmates, two per day, come to the shelter every week to help, Sagety said. The animal rescue is a no-kill shelter that relies on contributions and volunteers.

“It’s been so much help for our shelter and our animals; but also, it’s been great for the inmates, it’s been a good program for them, too,” she said.

A public information officer for the federal correctional institution, who asked that his name not be used, said the dog program gives inmates an opportunity to work with the community. It also helps them develop a work ethic.

“It gives them skills, gives them structure, so they can go to work every day and do a job,” he said. “It’s a great program.”

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