A southwest Virginia rescue group has partnered with a prison that offers a special program to help homeless pets. Not only do the dogs who go through the program return as more adoptable, the inmates also reap the rewards.
The program is called SCAR – which stands for Second Chance at Re-entry.
“It gives abused and neglected dogs a second chance, and it gives the offender a chance to care for someone other than himself – a chance to make a difference, have purpose,” said David Hammond, an institutional program manager with the Virginia Department of Corrections.
The pairing is BRILLIANT. PAWS of Southwest Virginia rescues the dogs; inmates at the Pocahontas Correctional Center (located in Pocahontas, VA) train them.
The president of PAWS, Carla Gilliam, explained to me that the SCAR program takes in about 6 dogs at a time and they stay at the facility for 12 weeks. The dogs, which were rescued by PAWS, are assigned handlers before they arrive and are with that particular handler for the duration of the program. They learn basic obedience and crate training, they work on their socialization skills and even learn a few tricks while they are there. They have a small graduation and the handlers show what each of their dogs has learned while they are there.
“It’s amazing what a difference they make for the dogs!” said Carla. “We send some dogs that have never been on a leash before we take them in, some have had very little socialization and are so scared. When we go back in 12 weeks for graduation it is so amazing to see the transformation they have made. The dogs are so well behaved and have learned so much and are so confident.”
Two shining examples are Ruby and Jolene. PAWS volunteers rescued the sick little sisters in December of 2012. The future did not look promising for these timid pups – even after surviving Parvo.
“They were always scared at adoptions and didn’t show well,” said Carla. “After completing their training program we saw the most amazing difference in those two. They knew their commands, they were confident and outgoing – truly different dogs to what we dropped off 12 weeks before. It brought tears to our eyes to see the transformation in them. If it had not been for the program and the amazing job their handlers did, I think we would still have both of them.”
Ruby and Jolene were both adopted shortly after their graduation from SCAR.
The incarcerated handlers take this mission seriously. It’s a reward for them to be in this program and they actually have to go through a rigorous screening process to get in. They must undergo two interviews; one with a SCAR leader and another with a qualified mental health professional. Their criminal history is examined and the prison completes a background check.
The dogs are also held to a high standard. During the 12-week program, the dogs are graded weekly.
“The dog has to learn certain skills each week and must pass those skills and tasks to progress to the next level,” said David Hammond. “We have had very few dogs that have had to be held back.”
That’s probably because the inmates have also gone through some intense training. They have two offenders who have been trained through St. Francis, who in turn teach the other participants.
St. Francis is an organization that professionally trains service dogs for people with disabilities.
“We focus strictly on caring for the animal and teaching him or her to be a good pet,” said David. “We work through whatever issues they have, including aggression.”
SCAR is working!
“It has helped make our dogs more adoptable and ready for their forever homes, they are housebroken, know basic commands and are very well behaved after their training,” said Carla. “It has made a difference in the dogs being adopted quicker. One of the first questions we get when people are looking to adopt is ‘Are they housebroken?’”
With all the issues out of the way, the adopters can focus on forming that special bond that happens between pet and person.
“When the dogs have their training it makes transitioning to their new home so much easier for them and their new owners,” said Carla. “The SCAR program has been a true blessing to our organization and the dogs. I also think it has made a big difference for their handlers. You can see the strong bond formed between them at graduation and we are so appreciative of everyone involved in the program.”
“You could say it saves lives – the dog and the offender,” said David. “A second chance can heal the SCAR.”
Would you like to help PAW of Southwest Virginia continue to rescue dogs and send them to the SCAR program? This month, Fetching Apparel is donating 40% of profits to PAWS so please check out our cool tees, tanks, totes and hats (featuring Jeffrey the Rescue Dog). We now also have collars and leashes! As we say at Fetching Apparel, Go get it!