Inmates Luis Maldonado and Matthew Witaszek use voice commands and treats to help train Second Chance Animal Shelter dogs Gabe and Remy while in the yard of the work release building at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction (Submitted photo)

Inmates Luis Maldonado and Matthew Witaszek use voice commands and treats to help train Second Chance Animal Shelter dogs Gabe and Remy while in the yard of the work release building at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction (Submitted photo)

West Boylston – Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis is always looking for innovative ways to bring enhanced reentry and rehabilitative programs to help reduce recidivism among those serving time at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction. In that spirit, the Sheriff recently announced he has teamed up with East Brookfield’s Second Chance Animal Shelter to begin a new program pairing their shelter dogs with his low risk inmates. It’s not your average “pet project”, along with its successful inception just over a month ago the program has been a resounding success at both the correctional facility and for the Second Chance Animal Sheleter as well.

Among the newest members to occupy a cell block at the Worcester County House of Correction include one year old Remy, a yellow lab who upon his arrival was twenty pounds overweight and had a tendency to jump. Gabe, a four month old kennel mix whose fondness for chewing and nipping as a result of being taking away too soon from his mother made him all but impossible to adopt and the latest prison pooch, Kingston was much too skittish for any family to take home. These shelter dogs as a result of their substantial behavioral problems were all once considered “un-adoptable” now have a Second Chance by being the beneficiary of something the inmates have plenty to give, their time.

As part of the Sheriffs‘ new Second Chance Initiative, inmates chosen to participate in the program are responsible for the care, custody & control of their dog 24 hours a day. Each canine is paired with two pre-screened inmate “handlers” who have been trained by the staff from the Second Chance Animal Shelter in behavioral techniques from using a clicker to ushering voice commands. Housed in the minimum security building on the jail campus, the dogs are paired with the lowest risk inmates who are considered to be making progress in their own rehabilitation. Both the dogs and inmates learning techniques to turn their behavior around.

Inmate Luis Maldonado spends time training Second Chance Animal Shelter dog Remy with his favorite ball while in the yard of the work release building at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction (Submitted photo)

Inmate Luis Maldonado spends time training Second Chance Animal Shelter dog Remy with his favorite ball while in the yard of the work release building at the Worcester County Jail & House of Correction (Submitted photo)

The Sheriff is also confident the dogs will also help prepare the inmates for the routine demands of life after prison, easing for them what is often a difficult transition. “Having the dogs here at our correctional facility has quickly lifted the inmates spirits and created a more upbeat atmosphere. The reduction in stress level and tension has also made a safer environment for our correctional staff as well. Several studies have shown that inmates who bond with animals while incarcerated have lower rates of re-offending and never going back to jail .” said Mr. Evangelidis.

Thirty four year old inmate Luis Maldonado, handler for lab Remy agrees as well. “I like taking care of Remy, it give me a sense of responsibility. He’s a smart dog and I look forward to training and being with him every day, he always cheers me right up.” Thanks to Maldonado’s training and the Sheriff’s Second Chance Program, Remy is soon scheduled to be adopted by a Sheriff’s Department employee.

The Second Chance Animal Shelter is appreciative for the Sheriff’s program as well. “The inmates here have done a super job caring for and training our dogs, we have seen an incredible improvement in their behavior. Freeing up our kennel space has also meant we can help more dogs. We truly appreciate Sheriff Evangelidis hosting this program, which has helped to place our dogs in homes much faster.” said Second Chance Animal Shelter Adoption Manager Lindsay Doray.

Sheriff Evangelidis is no stranger when it comes to shelter dogs. As the owner of two shelter dogs himself, under the Sheriff’s tenure his department has also rescued two shelter pups to become K-9’s at the Sheriff’s Department. “One of the things we did when I got elected sheriff was to rescue a dog from the Sterling Animal Shelter and we trained him to be the most sophisticated drug sniffing dog in the county. Now we have two shelter dogs trained and working for our department.” Evangelidis continued “I’ve always loved the possibility of bringing animals into the correctional world and I’m glad we have been able to bring that to fruition with this program.”