Travis County inmates training shelter dogs

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Inmates at the Travis County Correctional Complex are getting a new understanding of mannerisms, behavior, health and wellness through the eyes of a dog. Pups from the Austin Animal Center are coming to the complex once a week for 90 minutes to visit with inmates who have qualified for training classes. These inmates get to have hands-on coaching with the dogs, teaching them to be house-trained, sit, lie down and walk on a leash.

The program benefits all parties involved, according to AAC. Dogs that know basic commands and are well-behaved get adopted more readily, which lessens the burden on the animal shelter. The Austin Animal Center is a no-kill facility, which means they do not euthanize dogs based on overcrowding. Unfortunately, a number of flooding events over the past year have kept animal numbers at local shelters high. AAC Chief Animal Services Officer Tawny Hammond says that dogs are stressed in the artificial shelter environment. Their keen noses are aware of the disinfectants used to clean the facility, and their ears pick up overwhelming sound from all the hard surfaces that are bouncing noise. It makes them have “nervous habits,” which often “melt away” once they’re in a more stable home. Socializing with Travis County inmates helps these dogs find forever homes faster.

The inmates, on the other hand, learn training skills and build relationships with the dogs, which boosts their self-confidence. The prisoners have to potential to become volunteers with AAC once they are released from jail, or possibly work with animals elsewhere after learning these useful coaching skills. One female inmate, who has been released, has already adopted the dog she helped to train.

Twelve women filled the first training class, which lasted four weeks. Twelve men are currently in a second session, with a rotation of three to four dogs in class. Both Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton and Hammond believe prisoners change their behavior for this opportunity, as it is a privilege. According to Hammond, inmates tell her “they wouldn’t miss a class for anything.”

This program is expected to expand in the coming months, with a foster program in early 2017. Inmates will qualify to foster dogs in their cells depending on their past behavior and charge history. There are other programs already in place for guide dogs and therapy dogs in the Travis County jail, but this training class partnership is a first.

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