Inmates help train difficult dogs

Photo: Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and an inmate of the Dallas County Jail promote the Homes for Hounds program. /Photo by Ariel Graham

A new program at the Dallas County Jail is designed to make dogs more adoptable, and inmates more employable.

Through the “Homes for Hounds” program, five dogs from the Grand Prairie Animal Shelter were taken to the jail for a five-week obedience-training course. Ten inmates, under the direction of a professional dog trainer, work with the dogs to teach them basic commands such as “sit” or “stay” and also to get them accustomed to being around people.

“We’re trying to find dogs that would otherwise be a little difficult to adopt,” Sheriff Lupe Valdez said. “The idea is to socialize the dogs so it’s easier to adopt them. Usually people don’t want to have a dog they’re going to have problems with. If we take that type of dog, usually ones who have been on the streets, and we socialize them, they’re easier to adjust and adopt.”

Once the dogs complete the program, they are sent back to the Grand Prairie Animal Shelter and put up for adoption. Five new dogs will then be sent to the jail for obedience training.

It’s not only the dogs that are benefitting from this program. The inmates also learn personal responsibility, accountability, and valuable skills that will help make them more employable upon their release.

Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia explained that programs like Homes for Hounds are vital to reforming the criminal justice system.

“We need more programs like this,” Garcia said. “We need criminal justice reform. When you talk about improving things in the criminal justice system, this is what it is: programs that give not only the inmates the opportunity to go back into society and have some skills, but also let the animals go back into the shelter and make them more adoptable. It’s a win-win situation for everybody in the program, because it’s people helping animals and animals helping people. What better way to change the criminal justice system?”

Darrell Johnson is one of the handlers of Diamond, a 2-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix. He recalled when Diamond first arrived at the jail, skittish and very anxious.

“At first, she was real scared when she first came in,” Johnson said. “I believe she was on the streets for a while before she came in here. But you’ve just got to show her love and compassion, and she will give herself into you.”

Johnson has five children of his own back home, and his experience as a father has been very helpful in training Diamond.

“I’m really used to this because of my children. Being away from my children for such a long time has really helped me doing this. That’s really the main reason I put in for this program,” he said.

As the inmates demonstrated skills they taught the dogs over the past few weeks, it was clear that the bond between inmates and dogs was strong. Johnson said that all of his fellow inmates in the program have become attached to the dogs, and that as much as the dogs have helped them become better people, they’ve also helped the dogs become better as well.

“Everything in my power wishes I could bring her home with me,” Johnson said. “She is a great dog. She has come so far, just like all these other dogs. If you were here when they first came into the park, they were all barking; they were out of their minds. But all you need to do is just show them some love and attention.”