Rescue dog program giving ex-prisoners new leash on life
CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from CTV's Washington Bureau Correspondent Richard Madan
Published Wednesday, May 22, 2019 6:45AM EDT
A rescue dog program in the United States is working to give prisoners a new leash on life.
The 'Pawsitive Change' prison program pairs convicts and parolees with rescued dogs for mutual rehabilitation.
"Behind prison walls, the barriers are up. Emotional, spritual, racial barriers," said program creator Zach Skow. "The dogs provide emotional honesty a space to be open and vulnerable. So the transition that happens there is absolutely remarkable."
Most of the dogs have special needs which are taken care of by the prisoners.
Paroled inmates who have participated in the program say they weren’t the ones who rescued these dogs; the dogs rescued them.
"The biggest thing the program gives is hope," said Skow. "One of the things you don't have in prison is hope."
Paroled inmate Daniel Robinson served more than a decade behind bars for kidnapping and violent crimes. He insists that training and then adopting a rescue dog gave his life new meaning.
"So many people are taught to suppress their emotions, and only express anger and resentment, but these dogs have changed that," said Robinson.
While the Pawsitive Change is based in California, Skow took to Capitol Hill with his own rescue dog Cora Rose in the hopes of expanding the program across the United States -- and it seems that lawmakers are listening.
"I think there's very transformative powers dogs bring that have legitimate medical use," said New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Democratic presidential hopeful Eric Swalwell also supports the program.
"I've thought a lot of what [prisoners] do when they get out [and] I believe in redemption," said Swalwell.
Skow credits recent advancements in U.S. prison reform to celebrities who have used their star status to advocate for changes, including Kim Kardashian who used her celebrity to convince U.S. President Donald Trump to free 17 non-violent offenders.
"People are now paying attention to criminal justice reform… [People] who really didn't care about it before," said Skow. "[Kim] has made it a mainstream issue."
Skow says he has also been approached by Canadian prison advocates looking to adopt the program.