Prison inmates ready rescue dogs for forever homes

Muskegon County

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — From the pound to prison.

A pack of dogs is at a new temporary home the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility, a state prison in Muskegon. It’s part of a new program there.

The inmates will train dogs to get them ready for their forever homes, teaching commands like sit, heel and the other basics.

Meanwhile, the dogs may be the ones providing valuable life lessons to the inmates.

Rescue dog prison rehab program
One of the rescue dogs participating in a 12-week rehabilitation program at a state prison in Muskegon. (Aug. 19, 2019)

Alexis Ogborn, the executive director of the Muskegon Humane Society, is the prison dog training program director. She admitted that at first, she was nervous about the idea of working with convicts.

“I was like, ‘What if we come in and we are uncomfortable with it?'” she said. “But immediately, we come in and I just see all the guys were petting the dogs, they were getting kisses. I could see that they are definitely going to care for the dogs.”

Rescue dog prison rehab program
One of the rescue dogs participating in a 12-week rehabilitation program at a state prison in Muskegon. (Aug. 19, 2019)

The eight dogs in the program have been passed up for adoption, some spending years locked up in shelters.

“I love it,” inmate Tony Raper, one of the dog trainers, said of the program. “Take Cruiser for example. He’s 4 years old, he’s been in the shelter for three in a half years. I’ve been in prison since I was 19, so me and him are exactly alike. We don’t know nothing but being locked up. So If I can give him a chance to get a home then, that’s me giving back. And really that’s the only way I can give back right now, so that’s the satisfying feeling I get.”

Now in his 40s, Raper is serving a life sentence for murder. His cellmate Sydni Matthews is facing up to 60 years for armed robbery. Both are low-level security risks and now dog dads to Cruiser.

“My main thing that I can learn from Cruiser (is) probably patience because that’s one of my flaws,” Matthews said.

Rescue dog prison rehab program
Cruiser sits at Raper and Matthews’ feet at the launch of the rehabilitation program. (Aug. 19, 2019)

The dogs will live with the inmates in the cells, providing an environment that is closer to a home than a lonely kennel.

“Without programs like this, they (the dogs) really don’t have a shot, so that’s the biggest thing, getting the dogs a home,” Raper said.

Rescue dog prison rehab program
One of the rescue dogs participating in a 12-week rehabilitation program at a state prison in Muskegon. (Aug. 19, 2019)

The 12-week training program ends with the dogs being put up for adoption. If they aren’t adopted, they will stay in prison until a family comes along. 

The program is fully funded by the Muskegon Humane Society. The organization is always in need of donations and volunteers. 

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