It’s a new day at the Colwell Probation Detention Center. Eight detainees, including three named McGraw, Carlton and Fulkerson, wake up in their dorms. They put their feet on the floor and then they do something unexpected, something beautiful and ingenious that has the potential to revolutionize incarceration in the United States. They lovingly smile and say, “Good Morning” to their dogs thanks to RESCUED of Blairsville, Georgia.
For nearly four years, the Colwell Probation Detention Center in Blairsville, Georgia has teamed up with a host of experts to provide a holistic program approach, including the professional dog trainers of Cold Nose College and Jill Gardella, owner of Hair of the Dawg grooming, to create the RESCUED program.
Fully funded by the two shelter partners of the program, Castoff Pet Rescue and Humane Society Mountain Shelter, RESCUED is a 10 week program that matches a detainee with a dog in need of care and patient training. With the expectation of preparing a shelter dog to be with a permanent family and detainees for success in society and the workforce, RESCUED is proving to be a more effective and unique approach to achieve the successful rehabilitation of detainees and their four legged friends.
In July of 2012, RESCUED officially became the first dog rescue program within the Georgia Department of Corrections partnering at the time with Tri-State Pet Rescue. RESCUED has taught the detainees, “viable job skills that will enable them to gain employment upon re-entry into their communities thus giving them a chance of being ‘rescued’ from the revolving door of incarceration,” says Diane Hassett, Superintendent of the facility. While the detainees are given companionship, they are also taught useful skills and given the privilege of on the job training which is expected to help solidify their foundation as productive citizens.
The detainees are selected to participate in the program after an extensive application process which includes an essay, a thorough background check of their criminal histories and an assessment of their institutional behavior. When the detainee has smoothly and successfully completed the first part of the process, he is interviewed by a panel. After this, the board makes a decision of who will fill the vacant handler positions based on all the information available.” Detainees who are welcomed into the program can expect the next 10 weeks to include Basic Computer and Resume Building instruction, a weekly class on Problem Solving Based on Spirituality, a variety of instructional presentations and on the job training in dog family manners and grooming, as well as an introduction to Agility for Fun and Nose Work.
Jill Gardella of Hair of the Dawg in Blairsville, Georgia is the driving force behind the certificate the detainees earn in dog grooming from Central Georgia Technical College. She teaches the inmates basic grooming skills such as, bathing, blow drying, brushing, conditioning and haircutting. Detainees also learn to pluck and clean ears, care for eyes and trim nails. Gardella is more than happy to help with the RESCUED program. Fortunately, Gardella is not alone in her generosity; more experts have willingly offered their knowledge to ensure the prosperity of RESCUED.
Based in Murphy, North Carolina, Cold Nose College plays a vital role in the success of RESCUED. As the owners of Cold Nose College, Brad and Lisa Waggoner, along with their former apprentice, Kay Mizell, and current apprentice, Jim Ross, teach inmates modern, positive reinforcement training as well as pet first aid and CPR. The detainees are educated in the use of ‘clicker training’ which is an extremely effective way to train dogs. “With clicker training, the dog learns that the sound of the ‘click’ is what tells them they got it right, and reinforcement for the successful exercise brings them a yummy piece of food,” explains Brad Waggoner. Cold Nose College uses a variety of methods to educate the detainees, such as demonstrations, lectures, videos and hands on coaching. “The men learn they can change another’s behavior without the use of force or intimidation,” says Waggoner. These experiences prepare dogs for adoption and provide the detainees with essential social skills and good work habits.
The RESCUED program believes that character building goals must be accompanied by practical skills to increase the chances of success in society and in a work environment. To date 74 detainees have completed the program and have been released back into society. Of those, 67% continue to be productive members of our society.
The Colwell Probation Detention Center prides itself in the reinforcement of respect, self-control and discipline in all detainees. But, as Hassett explains, “a fourth has been added to those participating in the program, integrity, always doing what is right even when no one else is looking.” Integrity is of great importance to any employer who is in need of good, trustworthy employees. While character building is an important goal of RESCUED, the detainees learn many other useful skills that may improve their chances of success upon reentry into the workforce. The program has evolved over the past four years to include: St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church who conduct a class on Problem Solving Based on Spirituality, Linda Wood of North Georgia Technical College teaches participating detainees Basic Computer and Resume Building Skills, Adam Born of United Community Bank presents, “How to Start a Small Business and Money Management,” and Counselor Patrice Kilpatrick shares her course, “Anger Management,” Dr. Patti Barnes and Dr. Dwaine Zagrocki of Union County Pet Hospital teach a Basic Animal Health Class and the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission Workforce Development Career Coach class, which includes resume building and job search skills. Detainees are also awarded On the Job Training Certificates in Grooming by Central Georgia Technical College. Additional programming currently being worked on is a Substance Abuse Class and the Georgia Work Ready Certificate Program. When strong character is matched with practical skills, detainees are better equipped to rejoin and excel in the workforce.
There’s been an evolution in the facility too. In June of 2012 the six men and four dogs were housed in a 216 square foot room, which included six bunks, four dog crates and additional dog gear. After the successful first year of the program, the Georgia Department of Corrections gave Colwell the permission to enlarge the space. The men and their dogs are now housed in a 1100 square foot facility that also includes 6 double bunks, a bathing and grooming area and a library of positive dog training books, DVDs and publications donated by dog trainers from around the United States.
As men move out of the program and others move in, one or two of the detainees stay in the next 10 week session of RESCUED to mentor the newcomers. Detainee Carlton, now a mentor, says “Mentorship wasn’t what I expected. It was harder. I’ve managed construction crews before, but it was not of this magnitude. It’s expanded my leadership abilities. I now have a different way to teach and lead people.”
It’s evident to see the program has a powerful effect on the men by the comments heard during a training session. Detainee McGraw offered, “It’s been a wonderful learning experience. I wasn’t looking to fall in love with a dog. I was really just looking for a way out of the other dorm, but we’ve all come together. We’ve learned more from the dogs than they have from us, especially patience. These dogs have had a hard life in the shelter and it’s amazing what you can teach them. If they can learn, then we can too.
Anything is possible.” And Detainee Fulkerson chimed in that for him “It’s been a challenge working with the other people and a challenge for ourselves. We have to set an example. Some of us have a harder time following integrity, but we’ve learned that integrity is about doing the right thing with no one is looking. The dogs want to be loved and we want to be loved.”
With so many shelter dogs in need of patient training and so many detainees in need of rehabilitation, it seems RESCUED has made a perfect match.
Did you know that your favorite celebrity canine, – yes, our very own Maxine– came from the RESCUED program? When you meet Maxine on the street and she gives you a polite greeting, sits pretty and give’s you her paw, that’s her training from RESCUED. Don’t you want to adopt a well-behaved dog like Maxine? I can’t recommend getting a dog from this program enough. If you’d like to know my first-hand experience, I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have, just give us a shout! –Alice & Maxine
For information on adopting a dog from the RESCUED program please contact any one of these wonderful organizations
Castoff Pet Rescue
Visit by appointment only:
Blairsville, GA 30512
Humane Society Mountain Shelter
129 Bowling Drive
Blairsville, GA 30512
Cold Nose College
Good Manners & Behavior Consulting for the Family Dog
Murphy, NC 28906
Jill Gardella, Groomer
Hair of the Dawg
32 Plott Street
Blairsville, GA 30512