In addition to stopping animal cruelty before it starts, Show Your Soft Side also strives to educate and motivate, but sometimes, we are the beneficiaries of our own goals. It’s good to leave Baltimore every so often because we learn and are inspired every time we travel.
Last November we were invited to speak at the Animal Cruelty Prosecution Conference in Pittsburgh, an annual conference hosted by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Animal League Defense Fund. We met the nation’s top prosecutors and law enforcement officials who are working to stop crimes against animals, including James W. Crosby, a retired Lieutenant from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and an expert on canine behavior, who seeks to reverse the epidemic of officers who needlessly kill dogs in the line of duty. Crosby liked Soft Side so much that he encouraged us to launch the campaign in Jacksonville and introduced us to Jennifer Deane, President and Founder of Pit Sisters, a non-profit that gives voice to the most misunderstood dogs. Thanks to her, the Jacksonville campaign came together before we knew it.
Simply put, Jennifer Deane is one of the most competent, caring and effective advocates we’ve met on this journey, and thanks to her, our team was on the ground within weeks for a photo shoot with 3 superstars of the Jacksonville Jaguars, namely Long Snapper Carson Tinker, Wide Receiver Rasheed Bailey, and Cornerback Demetrius McCray. Jen knows how to get things done, whether it’s launching a media campaign, helping a dog in need, or crafting a program that quite literally changes lives.
Jennifer had worked with Carson Tinker and knew he was a proven Softie. She runs the TAILS program (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills), which pairs shelter dogs and inmates at the Montgomery Correction Center, and Tinker had volunteered to be the spokesperson for the campaign.
TAILS has been transformational for shelter animals and inmates alike. The inmates teach the dogs behaviors that make them more adoptable and ultimately reduces the likelihood of their returning to the shelter. In turn, the dogs help inmates learn accountability, problem solving, communication, and patience; life skills that keep them from re-entering the prison system in the future. The pairs are together 24/7, making the inmates responsible for all of their assigned dog’s emotional and physical needs, including housebreaking, grooming, feeding and daily exercising.
Programs such as TAILS resolve two pressing needs. Our nation’s correctional system incarcerates more than a million men and women, while more than 3.9 million dogs wait in shelters for loving homes. Tragically, each year 1.2 million dogs never have that opportunity and are euthanized. The dogs that participate in TAILS are often difficult to adopt due to medical or behavioral problems. The program gives these shelter dogs and inmates a second chance.
Inmate/animal programs have existed for several decades and concrete data exists to establish they work. Washington State created the first program in 1981. Currently, 71 prisons have implemented animal training programs and 36 states have an animal program in at least one of its prisons. These programs create incentives, as inmates must maintain good behavior status to participate. Benefits also extend to inmates in the general population, who report that even brief animal interactions alleviate stress. As a result, violence decreases, positive social interaction among inmates increases, and benefits extend beyond release. A recent study from a Philadelphia prison found that 41% of its inmates will be rearrested and back in the prison; yet only 14% of the inmates who participated in the program will return.
The benefits of the TAILS program are enormous. Not only are inmates and shelter dogs learning skills and behaviors that will ensure their success and ultimate freedom, but adopters reap the benefits of bringing home well-socialized and trained dogs. No matter what may happen on Jaguars’ EverBank field, you don’t have to look very far to find a win-win situation in Jacksonville.
For more information about the Pit Sisters or the TAILS program, visit their website at www.pitsisters.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PitSisters, where you can see videos of the TAILS program in action.
Written by Shannon Goodell and Caroline Griffin. Photos by Seglinda Martin Photography.