Helping Hands Humane Society has always looked for innovative ways to showcase the wonderful animals we have available for adoption. Our “Blue Ribbon” program is one that has been especially successful. In 1994, we agreed to partner with the Women’s Correctional Facility in Topeka to institute a dog training program involving the inmates and shelter dogs. We worked with the Correctional Facility to secure a grant for them to build a ten-run kennel and grooming facility on the prison grounds. It took nearly two years for this program to come to fruition, and in July of 1996 the first group of shelter dogs moved to the prison for six weeks.
Every other month, HHHS selects a number of shelter dogs to participate in this valuable program eight-week course. Upon arrival, each dog is assigned to an inmate who will care for the dog throughout its stay. The inmates are responsible for feeding, socializing, grooming, training and keeping their dog’s pen clean. They also keep a daily journal on the personality and progress of their dog. The journals come back to the shelter with the dogs and are given to the adopters. This gives the adopter some insight into the temperament and demeanor of their new dog.
Over the years, several trainers have donated their time to this program by working with the inmates and the dogs. They teach the inmates appropriate methods of training dogs with positive reinforcement. The dogs learn basic obedience commands of sit, down, stay, come and heel. They are well-groomed and given constant love and companionship.
Margaret Price of HHHS is the current trainer. She not only works with the inmates to teach basic obedience, but also teaches the dogs fun tricks. At the end of the eight-week training program, Margaret tests each individual dog to assess their skills and their retention of the training they have received. Her goal is make all of the dogs in her program family ready.
Any partnership must be beneficial to both parties and the “Blue Ribbon” program certainly accomplishes this goal. The inmates learn responsibility, compassion and nurturing. Acquiring the skills of dog training and grooming provides them a great sense of accomplishment. HHHS’ dogs return to the shelter trained, socialized and well-groomed. All of these attributes greatly increase their chances of being adopted. Upon their return, potential adopters are usually waiting to meet the “Blue Ribbon” dogs. The Topeka Correctional Facility and HHHS are both looking forward to continuing this successful partnership for many years.