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At Shawnee Correctional Center, offenders are training shelter dogs to become companions for veterans

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Thursday, May 17, 2018  |  Article  |  By MARILYN HALSTEAD

Corrections (74) , Prisons (74)

VIENNA — Jericho, Bowzer and Sinatra had lived at Project Hope Humane Society in Metropolis for a long time — five years for Jericho. Hope was one thing in short supply for these dogs.

“They probably did not have a good chance of being adopted,” Diane Winding of Project Hope said.

That is until Shawnee Correctional Center started a new dog-training program. The program is not only changing the lives of these three dogs, but also the offenders who work with them.

Kema Fair and Bowzer, Jaime Cornejo and Jericho, and Joseph Ruiz and Sinatra demonstrated some of their new skills Wednesday afternoon in a classroom at the prison. All of the men had dogs before they were incarcerated at Shawnee.

Dogs live at the prison for the duration of the three-month program. They have their own room with kennels for each animal. Their room opens to a separate fenced yard with agility equipment and a town-house-style dog house built by the construction class at the prison. The yard is illuminated at night with LED flood lights.

“We were fortunate to get into an LED program last year,” Warden Jeff Dennison said. “The fencing was donated by Terrace Fence Co. in Marion, and the only thing we had to do is install it.”

The yard is equipped with an agricultural lime potty area. Offender-handlers are responsible for picking up after the dog and depositing waste into a buried barrel.

This first class includes three dogs, but Amy Galbraith, SWATT dog program administrator, said they plan to eventually train six dogs per class. Dennison said they hope to eventually expand the program to include training in dog grooming.

The dogs learn basic obedience skills and socialization, and are house-trained by offender-handlers under the supervision of volunteer trainer Amy Cline. Two offenders work with each dog, trading off so they don’t get too attached to each other. One offender works overnight in the dog room, so the dogs are not left alone.

In addition to the offenders, several staff members also work with the dogs. Offenders had to apply to the program to become handlers. Staff members volunteer to work around dogs.

Fair worked in the law library at the prison when Lu Walker, assistant warden of programs, told him about a new dog-training program.

“It was kind of exciting,” Fair said.

Cornejo worked in the commissary, but there is a different pace to being a dog handler.

“I have to get up early to make sure the dogs have all their needs met,” Cornejo said.

He estimates that his workday has now increased to about 16 hours each day.