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6/11/2016 7:40:00 AM

Jail program to socialize misfit dogs marks 1 year

News staff photo by Damien Fisher Inmate Richard Velazquez greets Walter, one of the dogs he rehabilitated.
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News staff photo by Damien Fisher Inmate Richard Velazquez greets Walter, one of the dogs he rehabilitated.

Damien Fisher
News Staff Writer – The Gardner News

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.