By Alex DeMetrick

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (WJZ) — Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown is expanding a program that began five years ago, giving inmates the responsibility of training shelter dogs.

The Happy Hounds program allows inmates to train rescued shelter dogs for adoption. It’s expanding from six dogs to ten.

“The program is for either shelter or rescue dogs where they’ve been involved in abusive situations,” said Roxbury Warden, Richard Miller.

And it’s up to the inmates to socialize the dogs so they can be adopted.

Terry Epps Jr’s pup is named Ford. “He’s built tough. I see it already,” said Epps.

But it’s tenderness that makes a difference, and it goes both ways.

“It gives you a sense of affection,” said Epps.

“It’s beeen great, except the slobbers and snoring when he sleeps, but otherwise it’s great. I live in the cell with him. He stays with me 24-7. He’s become my best buddy,” said inmate Jim Isbell.

With Halloween around the corner, inmates do what any other pet owner sometimes does — dress their dogs for the holiday.

“Other guys on the tier, they love the dogs. Everytime she goes out, she’s like the mascot of the pier,” said inmate Jordon Bailey.

“There’s a marked change in the inmates behavior when they get into something like this,” said Sargeant Shawn Sheppard, Roxbury Corrections Officer.

“It gives them a drive, it gives them something to do. There’s very few things in prison you get a sense of accomplishment out of — this is one of those things,” said Sargeant Sheppard.

While the goal is to send these dogs on, saying goodbye isn’t always easy.

“It’s going to be hard, but I know she’s going to a better place,” said Bailey.

“I know she’s had it rough for the first half of her life. Knowing she’s going to a good home and live out the rest of her days, that feels good,” said Bailey.

Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Gerard Shields says the program has been run at the institution since 2011. It is supported by Uniting to Save Animals, based in neighboring Frederick County.

A number of other Maryland prisons also have dog-training programs.

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  1. Kathryn says:

    Dog trainers make good money so they have a skill when they get out where those who desire to make a change in their lives can get a job. The training makes the dogs more adoptable, so these programs are a win win. There are also programs where prisoners train service dogs that are given to the low income disabled and veterans free of cost. I hope once some of these long term prisoners become proficient dog trainers, they will be trained to train service dogs.

    Many dogs languish in shelters simply because they are so boisterous or ill mannered that most people will not consider them for adoption. A little polish goes a long wa. to getting these dogs forever homes. Regardless of the reason they give, the truth is the majority of dogs are turned into shelters due to a behavior problem that is usually fixable.

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