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PUPS on Parole program allows Carson City inmates to train shelter dogs

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"I love dogs." Like many Americans, Steve Byers is an animal lover. Unlike most people, Byers is serving time at Warm Springs Correctional Center.

He and a handful of other inmates at the prison are part of the PUPS on Parole program. They give "hard-to-place" shelter dogs from the Nevada Humane Society the opportunity to find a forever home.

"A lot of these dogs, when we get them from the humane society, they're troubled." Warden Harold Wickham said many of the dogs come from abuse and neglect. Some of them don't have social skills or know basic commands when they come to the prison, but the PUPS on Parole program makes them more desirable for adoption.

Inmates teach the shelter dogs basic commands, like 'sit,' 'stay,' 'shake,' and 'down; ' but some of the trainers also prove shelter dogs can learn new tricks. One of the inmates taught his dog, Panera how to hop like a bunny. Other dogs at the prison know how to roll over and play dead.

Byers said, "everything we do is positive. The crate training is positive reinforcement. We reward them instantly. We praise them. It's all about praise." Many of the trainers use treats when their dogs successfully complete a command.

The positivity the trainers use to reward their pups seems to rub off on the inmates. Todd Adolphus said "I've learned so much about myself just by dealing with the different types of dogs."

The application process for the PUPS on Parole program is rigorous. Inmates must be disciplinary-free for at least a year and pass extensive interviews before being approved to train a dog. "Well you have to be a model inmate, basically. You have to carry yourself above board. You have to- regardless of the nonsense that might be happening elsewhere in the yard- you have to be one to turn all of that down and go like, 'I want to be with the dogs.'"

The shelter dogs aren't just a recreational activity for the inmates, though. They're a 24-hour responsibility.

"If your dog is sick, you have to take that dog out in the middle of the night to use the restroom," inmate Tyler Skochenko said. "There's nothing I've done in my years in prison that can teach someone the kind of responsibility that this program gives."

But the dogs aren't the only ones learning. Skochenko said, "it teaches you that you can overcome obstacles in your way. If you think something's too hard, well no, it's not. If you have the patience and the will to just do it, you can get it done."

While many of the inmates will take those skills with them when they're released from prison, some won't have that chance. "As of right now, my sentence is a life without [parole.]" But Todd Adolphus said the PUPS on Parole program gives him a chance to right some of the wrong decisions he made.

"I have more patience and tolerance for things that I once didn't. It's fulfilling. It's redemption."

Adolphus thinks every prison should have a dog-training program like the one at Warm Springs Correctional Center.

Warden Wickham said, "It works well for the inmates, the community, and the dogs, because they all work together. The dogs get their opportunity for a second chance and so do the inmates."

He said since December, the program has adopted about 100 "hard-to-place" shelter dogs into forever homes through the Nevada Humane Society.


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