Paws of Hope program helps W.Va. inmates, canines

The skills the inmates are learning will help them acclimate to life outside prison, find work at vet clinics and animal shelters

Daniel Tyson
The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — It was hard to tell who benefits more from the Paws of Hope program at the Humane Society of Raleigh County, the dogs or the federal prison inmates.

On Sunday, 24 inmates from the Federal Correction Institute Beckley’s satellite camp brushed up a number of skills through hands-on training, including first aid and disease prevention, basic grooming and defensive dog handling, required for canines needing a bit of extra attention before being deemed adoptable.

Inmates reported having a dog in their cells makes prison more tolerable.

“It’s a win/win,” said Ramsey Arnold, 29, who is into year three of of a nine-year sentence.

“I worked with dogs for a living at home. I made money and now I do it for free,” he said. “I enjoy it more when I do it for free.”

The dogs live in the cells of inmates, who bathe, feed, walk, train and most importantly love them, in hopes of helping them find a home.

Arnold explained on Saturday his dog Twain was adopted by a couple. Although Arnold is glad Twain went to a good family, the dog is already missed, he said.

“It was bittersweet. You get attached to the dog, but are glad to see when they go to good homes,” he said.

Paws for Hope began at the Beckley institution in November 2015, modeled after similar programs at other state and federal prisons.

The men are minimal security inmates and the dogs were deemed hard to place. Erica Jones, with the shelter, said the program lowers both the inmates’ and dogs’ stress and frustration levels and boosts morale.

“We see the men take responsibility for something. This has carried over to other areas, as well,” she said. “We see them reaching out to family members now, children they’ve spoken to for the first time.”

On Sunday Samuel Parrish, 45, from Lexington, Ky., stood in a semi-circle with raised hand. Parrish bombarded the instructor with questions concerning the psychology of dogs.

He asked about why one dog did not like women, about aggressive dogs and the pack mentality of some canines.

Later, Parrish, who is near the end of a 6 1/2-year sentence, said that when he’s released, working with animals is a career goal.

“I learned from this how to treat dogs, how to care for them,” he said.

Parrish would enjoy working at a nonprofit shelter dedicated to animals after working with a dog named Cane, who passed away recently of cancer.

That is also an objective of the Paws for Hope program, to be a viable career option for when the inmate re-enters society.

“It is the philosophy of the Bureau of Prisons that preparation for re-entry begins on the first day of an inmate’s incarceration,” said FCI Beckley’s Warden David Young.

Young said the event Sunday highlights the goal to prepare “inmates to be successful when they reintegrate into society.”

Jones said the skills the inmates are learning will easily help them acclimate to life outside prison. The skills will help make convicted felons more attractive to hire at vet clinics, groomers and shelters, she said.

Copyright 2016 The Register-Herald

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