Jun 15, 2016
Posted: Jun 10, 2016 2:32 PM EDT Updated: Jun 10, 2016 3:16 PM EDT
WORCESTER, MA (WGGB/WSHM) –
Richard Velazquez holds a stack of photos each one shows the face of a happy dog.
“That’s Erica, That’s Erica right there,” Velazquez said.
Velazquez has taught a lot of dogs some new tricks.
“Paw….sit…good boy Walker, good boy,” Velazquez added.
Velazquez isn’t just a dog trainer. He is also an inmate at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction and works with animals from the Second Chance Animal Shelter.
The shelter started the Project Good Dog program one year ago to help socialize and train some of their dogs.
“The dogs have no obedience and no manners and they don’t show very well in the kennel so they sit there for a while. So that ties up the kennel for another dog,” said Lindsay Doray with Second Chance Animal Shelter.
Doray noted that many of these dogs have never seen grass, never worn a leash, and haven’t received the attention from an owner or trainer.
“Others need to be taught the basics like sit, paw, roll over just to get them ready to be adopted,” Valazquez explained.
The program has graduated 23 dogs from the program.
Recently Jenna, a dog who was rescued from a Korean meat farm was brought to the prison. Jenna along with four other dogs were sent to Second Chance after spending their lives living in wire cages with little love and attention.
“I put her in the cage I lay next to her and soothe her and talk to her and you might consider it crazy but it works for the dog but they get to bond with me more,” Valazquez said.
The dogs sleep in kennels in the inmate’s rooms. The handlers take care of the dogs from feeding them, to bathing them.
“This opportunity opened my eyes up to a lot of things that I took for granted with my family you know,” Valazquez noted.
Velazquez is coming to the end of serving a two and a half year sentence.
“The impact on my life is it’s about being responsible now. I have 4 daughters and being caught up in bad decisions kind of made me miss a lot of them growing up,” Valazquez said.
Jun 15, 2016
|6/11/2016 7:40:00 AM
Jail program to socialize misfit dogs marks 1 year
WEST BOYLSTON — It was a class reunion of sorts at the Worcester County Jail on Friday, with the furry graduates from Project Good Dog coming back to see their old teachers.
Project Good Dog pairs up jail inmates with shelter dogs from the Second Chance Animal Shelter in East Brookfield. The dogs that get sent into the program are considered tough to adopt because of behavior issues.
The inmate spend up to 17 weeks working with the dogs, training them and getting them ready to be adopted.
“It’s been more of a success than I thought it would have been,” said Hilary Malloy, the staff member overseeing the program.
Project Good Dog has graduated and adopted out more than 20 dogs, with the inmates taking the problem dogs and training them into family pets.
The program has also been a boon for the inmates, said Sheriff Lew Evangelidis.
Training the dogs gives the men a sense of purpose, a schedule, and the knowledge that they can do good for the community.
“There’s been an incredible transformation in our inmates,” he said.
On Friday, Evangelidis celebrated the first year of the program, which has seen enormous success for the shelter, the inmates and the whole jail.
The dogs come to the jail with a variety of issues, said Lindsay Doray, the adoption center manager with Second Chances.
“We have a lot of dogs come in who are crazy and have no manners, or who are scared to death,” Doray said.
These dogs would sit in the shelter for months without Project Good Dog, waiting for someone to take a chance on them.
Second Chance is a no-kill animal shelter, and needs the space to rescue as many dogs as it can, Doray said.
Without the inmates, the shelter would not be able to help as many dogs as it does.
Second Chance trains the inmates to become dog handlers, and the inmates then spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week working with the dogs.
Being with the dogs gives the inmates something to care about, and gives them a different perspective on their own lives, said inmate Roger Holm.
“You feel more civilized over here, and less like a criminal,” Holm said.
Corrections Officer Mark Lapierre said that the special unit for the dog handlers is vastly different from the rest of the jail.
The tension has gone down, and there is a sense of compassion and camaraderie among the jail staff and the inmates, all thanks to the dogs.
Evangelidis said he knew the program would work, but he didn’t know how extensive the benefits would be.
“The surprise to me has been the impact it’s had on the jail itself,” Evangelidis said.
The inmates and jail staff are not the only ones getting a positive experience.
The dogs that graduate from Project Good Dog all get adopted.
Remy, a Labrador, was adopted by Cathy Pelitier last year.
Remy went from having behavior problems to being a great family dog, she said.
Pelitier is one of the many jail staff remembers who adopted one of the Project Good Dog pets.
“He’s a love,” she said.
“He brings more joy to my family than anything.”
The work continues, with more dogs getting their second chance at the jail.
Recently, the inmates took in Jenna, a dog rescued from a meat farm in Korea.
Jenna is learning how to walk after living most of her life in small a chicken wire pen.
Evangelidis said that the program is a vital part of the jail’s public safety mission.
The dogs have made the jail safer for the inmates and the staff, while giving the inmates a real way to give back to the community.
The project will make the inmates less likely to reoffend, and less likely to end up back in jail, he said.
“I have always believed that dogs can help inmates rehabilitate themselves,” Evangelidis said.
Jun 15, 2016
Posted Jun. 10, 2016 at 6:04 PM
Updated Jun 10, 2016 at 10:55 PM
WEST BOYLSTON – On Friday, Richard Velazquez, an inmate at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction, expected visitors to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a program that changed his life. As he knelt down to greet his guests, they wagged their tails and licked his face.
Project Good Dog, a program launched in April 2015, is a partnership between the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and the Second Chance Animal Shelter. In the program, needy shelter dogs were paired with inmates who provided the dogs with full-time care and training.
“The Second Chance Animal Shelter brings these dogs to us, and they train our inmates to work with these dog within an eight to 12 week program for free,” said Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis.
Sheriff Evangelidis said 23 dogs have participated in the program, 20 have been adopted, and eight have been adopted by staff.
These dogs have come from various walks of life, including negligent homes, transfers from other shelters, and surrenders. A few, like Jenna, one of their newest dogs in the program were even rescued from Korean meat farms, where they would have been slaughtered for human consumption.
“When they have those dogs, what we have noticed is that in the entire block, the stress level has dropped,” Sheriff Evangelidis said. “We create compassionate people, and it has made the officers feel much safer working in this environment.”
“The guys (inmates) have attitudes,” said Mr. Velazquez, an inmate for the last 20 years. “But when the dogs are there, they forget about that, because they just want to have fun with the dogs, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
Because inmates and shelter representatives work together to train the dogs in this facility, the shelter is able to get the dogs adopted more quickly.
“This program means a lot to these dogs because it gives them an opportunity to be adopted much faster,” said Lindsay Doray, Adoption Center Manager at the Second Chance Animal Shelter. “We get a lot of dogs that are either crazy and have no manners, or they come in and they are scared to death, they have never had the interaction they are able to get up here.”
Just before the dogs are about to graduate from the program, the shelter posts them online so by the time they make it back from the jail to the shelter, they have a home lined up.
Marc Lajoie, of Spencer, adopted Hershey, a graduate of the program. “You can tell from what an affectionate dog he is, that he had a great home when he was here,” Mr. Lajoie said.
“He came to us as a very happy, very friendly dog, not an aggressive bone in his body.”
Bill and Kathleen Carlson, of Southwick, adopted Brewzer last October. “With the Good Dog Program, he was all set, it was like an ‘out of the box dog,’ he knew how to do basic things already,” Mr. Carlson said.
“When the dogs go into a good home, I feel better,” Mr. Velazquez said.
At the end of the ceremony, Sheriff Evangelidis presented the Second Chance Animal Shelter with an official citation from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department.
“In recognition of the one-year anniversary of Project Good Dog; helping shelter pets live better lives while helping incarcerated individuals turn their lives around,” the sheriff said. “When an inmate leaves here and is less likely to offend, we all win.”
May 24, 2016
Staff Report – The Gardner News
May 24, 2016
WEST BOYLSTON An innovative program at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, training shelter dogs to become police dogs, is getting recognition from Petco.
“It’s saving the lives of shelter animals and giving them the opportunity to serve the community,” said Lee Domaszowec, the program manager with the Petco Foundation.
“It should be the model for all law enforcement agencies across the country.”
On Friday, May 20, Domaszowec presented Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis with a check for $30,000 to pay for a new kennel at the Worcester County House of Correction for the K-9 unit that serves the jail.
The money comes from the Helping Heroes grant.
Three of the four dogs in the unit are shelter dogs who have been trained to work in law enforcement.
Using shelter dogs for work in jail partly came about out of necessity, Evangelidis said. When he was first elected sheriff, the department was facing a crisis with the K-9 unit.
The dogs in the unit, mostly specially bred and trained German shepherds, were all getting set to retire.
To keep the K-9 unit going would have meant paying to buy new dogs, an expense that was just outside the budget.
Evangelidis felt it important that the jail have a K-9 unit.
Dogs serve a valuable purpose in jails, finding drugs smuggled into the jail before those drugs can wreck havoc among the prisoners.
“We have 1,200 inmates on any given day,” he said.
“I thought it was unacceptable not to have dogs available 24/7.”
Evangelidis and his team in the sheriff’s office worked hard to come up with a solution.
That solution turned out to be Nikita.
A small Labrador-mixed dog, Nikita is not a prototypical police K-9.
“When you think ‘police dog,’ you wait to see the German shepherd,” Evangelidis said.
The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office adopted Nikita from the Sterling Animal Shelter free of charge, and then had him go through specialized training offered by the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office.
Evangelidis said Nikita is now one of the most sophisticated drug-sniffing dogs working in law enforcement.
To prove himself, Nikita was able to find drugs being smuggled into the jail on his first day.
A prisoner was having Suboxone sent to him through the mail in a way most people would not detect.
The drug was crushed and the powder put in the glue closing the envelope, Evangelidis said.
People can’t smell drugs like Suboxone, but Nikita can.
The program has grown to include Jaxx, another small Labrador mix from the Sterling Shelter, and now Duke.
Duke, also a Labrador mix, was donated to the department by a family who could not keep him.
Duke is a bit bigger than Jaxx and Nikita, and just as ready to get to work.
Worcester County Sheriff Deputy Lt. Tom Chabot, the handler for Nikita and Duke, said that these dogs are in some ways better police dogs than German shepherds or other traditional K-9 officers.
“They seem to want to please you more,” he said.
Nikita, Duke and Jaxx are also different in that they are able to be pets as well as police dogs, Chabot said.
His other German shepherd police dogs could never be considered pets, as the working dogs were more like highly-tuned law enforcement tools.
Nikita and Duke are able to be family dogs when they go home, Chabot said.
“They’re more (like) family guys, but when it’s time for work they are 100 percent,” Chabot said.
The department also has a bloodhound, Maya, on the K-9 roster.
Evangelidis wanted to make sure they had a good tracking dog available to find escaped prisoners, and also help area police departments look for missing people.
Domaszowec said the use of shelter dogs is something almost no other law enforcement agency is doing right now.
When Petco Foundation executives found out about the program, they approached Evangelidis about the grant.
Going with the shelter dogs as K-9s gives the dogs a new lease on life, and it shows the community the value even little shelter dogs like Nikita can have.
“No one across the country does it better than the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office,” Domaszowec said.
The $30,000 Helping Heroes Grant award will help provide a year’s worth of dog food, veterinary fees, supplies such as dog beds and water bowls, national bloodhound training, narcotic training aids for the detection dogs, and a new 2,200-square-foot climate-controlled kennel and exercise pen.
The kennel is under construction with help from Worcester County Sheriff’s Office staff.
Officer Steve Salvadoros is leading the construction, with help from inmate work crews.
Former officer Marek Rudnicki is donating his labor to build the roof for the kenne