Behind the barbed wire of Idaho Department of Correction facilities in southwest Idaho are some unexpected inmates visiting from the Idaho Humane Society.
The partnership between the two organization dates back more than ten years, giving inmates a therapeutic way to learn responsibilities, while giving dogs some much-needed obedience training.
The program works out of three separate men's prisons in the state, with roughly 30 dogs at any given time in training.
"These guys are our janitors, our labor detail, or kitchen workers," psychosocial rehabilitation specialist Larissa Pfeifer said. "It's completely not paid, so on top of working full time, these guys do this volunteering; for nothing."
The dogs used in the partnership are considered “unadoptable”, mainly due to behavioral issues and nonaggressive obedience problems.
“It’s a huge transformation, it's physical as well as behavioral and emotional,” Idaho Humane Society Behavior and Adoption Program Coordinator Stefanie Leth said. “For a lot of these dogs they've never lived indoors, some of them have never had a bond with a person before.”
While the medium security prisoners involved in the program teach the dogs simple skills, basic commands and obedience, leaders say it teaches the prisoners responsibility and accountability.
“Even something as small as taking this dog out to go potty, or having to spend those multiple hours a day with this dog, has taught me responsibility to the point where I know it's up to me to put this dog within a loving home,” IDOC inmate Raymond Kyle said.
For Kyle, taking care of the dog isn’t a burden but a new chance of freedom even behind prison walls.
“I lived back in the back for a while, so I was in a cell 23 hours a day; and so to come out here and have this freedom and have an animal within your hands that you can teach how to be obedient or to do tricks and stuff like that, it's like being free,” Kyle explained.
The dogs serve a short stint at the prison and are put up for adoption after “graduation” usually in about eight to 10 weeks.
"For many of the dogs this is probably their last opportunity to be adopted from the shelter," Leth said. "If they have severe behavioral issues that makes them unsafe, they need some sort of behavior modification and this program has definitely saved the lives of numerous dogs for that reason.”
At the end of their training time, the dogs are adopted into forever homes after a graduation ceremony at the shelter.
While the separation can be bittersweet for the inmates, they appreciate the opportunity to participate in the volunteer program, and are hopeful for the future.
“It's allowed me to see a better side of myself to push myself to be a better person so when I do get out of here, I know that things are possible for me,” Kyle said.