On its most basic level, the program is about redemption.
Dogs brought to the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter in Pasco, WA, by animal control are not always immediately adoptable. Anyone that has ever visited the shelter knows that it is a very stressful place for a dog to live and some dogs do not handle that stress well. While the shelter uses every resource available to ensure all of their dogs find homes, the sad reality is that sometimes they are faced with the difficult decision of euthanizing difficult to place dogs. Thanks to the Ridge Dogs program, they now have another tool at their disposal giving their dogs a chance to thrive before they find their forever home.
The Ridge Dogs program is a joint venture between the A2Z Animal Sheltering Services (the current contract holder for the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter & Control), the Washington Department of Corrections – Coyote Ridge Corrections Center and Speak Dog.
I’ve been talking with Speak Dog owner Krystal Ellingson for a number of months about the program she started at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. With my schedule and with the required background check, Wednesday was the first opportunity I had to witness the program for myself. I have to say that I am impressed.
Even before learning about the details of the program, I knew it would be a huge benefit for the dogs – after all, getting them out of a noisy and intimidating kennel to train them has obviously got to increase their chances of not only being adopted, but also to increase the chance that each adoption is more successful. I also had a pretty good idea that the program would be good for the inmates involved because lets face it, dogs are special and they are great companions. Still, I didn’t realize just how important this program is to the men at Coyote Ridge. It seems that the dogs have a real calming influence in the prison and I was told on more than one occasion that since the first dogs arrived in December 2010, there have been fewer fights among inmates. Granted, I didn’t receive any official numbers regarding in-prison violence from the Department of Corrections but even the perceived reduction in violence can be a very good thing because that perception can lead to real improvements in prison-wide safety. It is clear to me that while the men are teaching the dogs to be better dogs, the dogs are teaching their handlers to be better men.
This program is good for our community and I hope that it continues to build on its early success. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I leave you today with a gallery of images from my first session. I hope you enjoy!