By Tim Gardner
A New Leash on Life, a program Avery County Humane Society has participated in since 2006 and which partners it with a correctional institution, had the latest class of dogs graduating on August 20.
The program allows eight inmates to train four dogs in basic obedience and agility while serving their court-mandated sentences.
The society’s correctional partner is Mountain View Correctional Institute, a medium security prison in the Kalmia Community of the far Southern section of Avery County. The dogs spend ten weeks training and living with the inmates, and there are professional trainers which work with the inmates who are training the dogs about their behavioral and training needs.
The New Leash on Life program is one of several which operate through the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. It relies totally on donations as it is not provided any federal, state or local (county) funding.
“I took over as the Humane Society’s director for the program in 2008 from Alice Suddreth who our executive director and was the first to partner with Mountain View,” said Charlene Calhoun, Avery County Humane Society shelter manager. “This is a part of my job that I love most. I am fortunate enough to get to see both sides of the inmate and trainer and the dogs journey. I see how this program transforms both trainer and dog. I am also very fortunate to get to partner with such a great group down at Mountain View. This program is saving lives every day.”
A New Leash on Life also offers some other benefits for the dogs. Through a partnership with the American Kennel Club, the dogs receive the same benefits of a purebred which would normally be registered with the organization.
The American Kennel Club Inc. is the oldest dog registry in the country, having been founded in 1884. The not-for-profit organization not only registers dogs and governs dog shows, it works to improve the health and welfare of all dogs though the AKC Canine Health Foundation, the AKC Companion Animal Recovery service, disaster relief and more.
All dogs that graduate from the New Leash on Life program will go to their new homes with a registration in the AKC Canine Partners program. The Canine Partners program enables mixed-breeds and purebreds “without papers” to enjoy AKC benefits and compete in AKC events, including agility and rally trials.
The registrations include other benefits of value to all dog owners, including 60 days of free pet health insurance and a one-year subscription to the AKC Family Dog magazine that includes tips on training, grooming and health care.
Owners receive a registration certificate from AKC, suitable for framing, which includes the dog’s name and individual AKC number.
“This is a great opportunity for the new owners of our dogs to receive valuable resources from the AKC to help them care for and train their dogs,” Calhoun added. “It also gives our owners and dogs access to all the events and programs that the AKC offers.”
Judy Rowand, a professional dog trainer for more than 40 years, along with her husband Ron, helped get the flagship New Leash on Life program started at the Marion and Black Mountain, NC correctional units, and then at Mountain View said the program has saved the lives of more than 800 dogs, while adding “ The New Leash on Life warms my heart and soul and all those who have been a part of it do amazing and great jobs—especially the inmates, They especially deserve every bit of commendation they receive and can take so much pride in what they do for the New Leash on Life.”
Rowand also started a New Leash on Life for female inmates, but it was discontinued when she developed health problems and was no longer physically able to work with the program.
Anthony Sparks, who has served as the on-site program coordinator at the Mountain View Correctional Institute for almost a year commented: “I absolutely love the New Leash on Life program. It gives back to the county and community and helps save homeless dogs that might otherwise have to eventually be put down. It’s so worthwhile and I’m honored to be part of it. And it’s a tremendous benefit for the inmates who are involved with it.”
Sparks shared that prisoners are chosen to participate in the program according to their backgrounds, charges on which they were sentenced, their behavior while inmates and related criteria. And each one who applies to participate in the program is interviewed extensively before being selected.
New Leash on Life benefits the inmates who learn responsibility and dog care skills that may help them find future employment in the animal care field.
Four Mountain View inmates who have worked in the New Leash on Life program gave the High Country Press remarks about their feelings of the its benefits. They follow in the next four paragraphs.
“There has never been a better program instituted in the department of corrections., said Joseph T. Meadows. “As an offender, not only can I be of service to the community, but I can help save the lives of shelter dogs. Words cannot express my gratitude for this opportunity. After all,don’t we all deserve another chance from time-to-time? I am pretty sure if these dogs could talk, they would say the same thing.”
Fred Willard commented: “NLOL allows me to work with God’s greatest living gift to mankind. If other people could only experience what I have, we would have fewer dogs in shelters.”
Eric Call added: “The NLOL program helps me as it helps the dogs. I’m happy to help give these dogs a second chance.”
Brandon Holmes stated: “My main perspective as a goal for the NLOL program is to contribute community services to Avery County and to Avery County Humane Society.”
Inmates receive certificates as part of the program, and some who have been part of the program have gone on to do other things with animals. One inmate in particular went on to begin a boarding kennel in Florida after he was released.
The socialization and training prepare the dogs for life with their new families, and that increases their adoptability. “Having basic training and socialization will make these dogs’ transition into their new homes much smoother for both them and their new families,” Calhoun said.
In the case of this graduating class, all four of the dogs have already been adopted, she also noted.
Quite a big deal is made of each graduation and they’re most heart-touching for all involved.The graduation showcases the skills that the dogs have been taught and is very emotional when the new families meet their dogs and the prisoners who have trained them. The prisoners and trainers spend time during the graduation ceremony going over a journal they keep for the families and a large spread of food and graduation cake is provided by the prison each time a graduation is held.
Truly, inmates get a sense of accomplishment, that they’re doing something good and useful through the program and has changed the lives of all those involved for the better as Avery Humane Society Executive Director Gwynne Dyer acknowledged. “It gives them something else to love and care for and the inmates working in the program give the dogs a second chance on their lives, just like in some cases they have been given,” she declared.
The AKC looks forward to a continued, long relationship with the Avery Humane Society and New Leash on Life. “We are delighted to work with such a dedicated group of people who work so diligently to find good homes for these deserving dogs,” said Mark Dunn, Assistant Vice President of AKC Canine Partners.
More information about the New Leash program can be obtained by stopping by the Avery County Humane Society, located at 279 Vale Road in Newland; by calling its office at (828) 733-2333; or by logging onto its web site at the following link: averyhumane.org/newleash.
Any corporate or private businesses or individuals who wish to sponsor a New Leash on Life program or donate to keep it in existence can also do so by contacting the Humane Society. All sponsorships and donations are welcomed and appreciated. They are tax deductible.