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Inmates Tyler Morton and Eric Cantu wait for the graduation ceremony to start with Cantu’s dog Georgie who, after playing vigorously with his toy, claimed the empty seat between them. Daily Record photos by Denise Cathey

Cell dog program is big on ‘pawsitives’

Cell Dogs
Thursday, September 20, 2018

“Unconditional love is as close as the nearest shelter,” reads the marquee on River Road outside the San Marcos Regional Animal Shelter.

Some in Hays County, however, didn’t have to go anywhere at all — some inmates housed at the Kyle Correctional Facility literally had unconditional love delivered to them.

Inmate James Guzman gently holds dog Pantera still as she wears a pair of sunglasses precariously balanced on her nose.

The facility, managed by Management Training Corporation, recently rebooted the P.E.T.S. (Pawsitive Education Training Solutions) program, aka Cell Dogs, which pairs inmates with dogs that would otherwise be sent to shelters.

The program debuted at the facility in 2005 under a grant through the PetSmart Charities Foundation and was recently re-introduced by Warden Deanna Branham.

Aaron Fisher holds up the certificate of appreciation he received for his contribution to dog Jacob’s performance. 

The eight week program is touted as helping both inmates and their canine companions — the former, through an opportunity to learn skills including service, connection, discipline, patience, tolerance, compassion and leadership; the latter by learning behaviors that will enhance their chances of finding “forever” homes outside the prison’s walls.

Seventeen inmates started the program and a dozen finished. Of the dozen dogs they trained, two have been adopted by the inmate’s family and a third by a law enforcement officer.

Prior to the start of the ceremony, inmate Rober Dale Beene Jr. gives his cell dog Patsy a pat as she waits on the cool floor.

It “helps rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism,” an overview of the program states. “Studies have shown that similar cell dog programs help inmates confront anger issues, reduce violence in the prison and decrease the need for medications. In the program, the offenders must use problem solving as they learn to work with and understand their foster dogs.”

The unconditional love was apparent at graduation ceremonies held at the facility Monday. 

PAWS dog trainer Shannon Smith hands inmate Kenneth Traylor his certificate of appreciation for his work with Sofia during the graduation ceremony.

Inmates, waiting to receive their certificates, lovingly stroked the dogs they will soon give up. If the program has done its work, both will have better futures because of their partnership.

Melody Hilburn, executive director of the PAWS Shelter of Central Texas, said she is currently waiting on grant funding for the next class.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666