Communique: Pawsitive Training In Prison For Puppies | Monty's Home
We've all met a misbehaved dog. Unfortunately, untrained dogs often end up in shelters...and most will be euthanized. Barbara Raab works to save these animals through training...in prison.
Listen above to Barb talk about Monty's Home and the Pawsitive Partners Prison Program that trains shelter dogs with the help of inmates. See our extended conversation below to hear the whole story.
Barb: Monty's home is a nonprofit 501 c3 organization that started with my dog, whose name was Monty. He was a registered therapy dog. We went into nursing homes and hospitals and he also was a canine actor. We filmed national commercials and he was my first obedience dog. I'm a certified dog trainer and started with Monty in puppy classes. Monty was a soul mate. We did everything together. We did promotions for Animal Welfare and we went into schools and taught children and-just a real sidekick. And at six years old he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor of the heart. That veterinarians gave him three months to live. And at that time I just I wasn't going to accept that, I had to look into alternative things. I'd been in the dog show in the dog world for years and years and I had a lot of support from people, you know, understanding losing a pet can be very, very traumatic. So I looked into alternative treatments for Monty-immune support, holistic, alternative things because the veterinarian said there was nothing that they could do.
Well, Monty lived 18 months and during the 18 months there were just was a lot of outreach from people and stuff. So we decided to start Monty's home with a program called the Rainbow Bridge Journey, where we can help people make this journey with their pet and deal with end of life issues. And our Web site has referrals of in-home euthanasia and cremations and that type of stuff. And it was the beginning for Monty's Home. So once that got started we really started looking at the overpopulation problem and the euthanasia rates in not just North Carolina, but since that's where I live, that's what I focused on. And some of the shelters euthanize ninety nine percent of the animals that walk through their doors.
So, being in the dog training world, I got talking with some other dog trainers and say, you know, I wish we could do something about this. You know, what do you think we can do? And one of the solutions we thought was instead of just taking a shelter dog and trying to adopt it out as it is, why can't we train it and then adopt it out? You know, get those kinks out. A lot of dogs are brought to the shelter as adolescents because they don't behave. They don't listen. So by taking those kinks out, you know, they'd be better pets, better just companion pets.
So we looked a little bit here and there and we don't have the time to do that. None of us dog trainers, we had our own jobs and stuff. So the prison system kind of just popped up in conversation. So I went to the local prison said, hey, you know, there's other programs in North Carolina, it's called the New Leash On Life and I says, can we do it locally here? I was in Pender County, Burgaw. They have a medium security prison there with like 700-800 inmates. I says, you know, can we get this program in here? So they were receptive. And in 2008 we pulled our first dogs to put in the prison. So we'll be nine years old in September.
Gina: What is this program called?
Monty: It's called the Pawsitive Partner's Prison Rrogram.
Monty: Pawsitive with a paw.
And the reason it's positive is because we use all positive reinforcement training. The sense with inmates and as general public as well. We teach them you do not need to punish, hurt, holler, force a dog to learn to have different obedience commands or to walk on a leash and not jump on people. You just need to communicate with them. And to communicate with the dog you need to form a partnership. So that's what we teach, is that you form this bond with these shelter dogs that have been abandoned, abused, in histories I don't even want to get into- some are very, very bad. So we teach them to use patience, kindness, and build that trust back up that's been beaten down on these poor animals. So they learn to build that trust, and it's a great lesson for them, too.
Our dogs all come directly from the shelter. It's a Pender County Animal Shelter. This is a county shelter. So they do euthanize the animals that aren't adopted. We temperament test our dogs before we take them. What we do is like a 19 step process. We want an animal that is social. So we do social ability testing-does he want to be with humans? We do aggression testing. We want to make sure they're not aggressive towards humans, of course, or cats or dogs. We have a tolerance test of children that we have a little toddler dolls that go in and pull their tails and we do stuff like that with dolls to see how they react to that. We want to make sure they don't have guarding issues. So we have food bowls and treats and raw hides that we give the dog and we have an artificial hand. We don't like to use our own because you never know. So we use the artificial hand to test and see if they have guarding issues, and if they don't pass any piece of that test, we leave them and we go to the next one because we can only take five dogs.
So what we want is the best five dogs. And so once we do all our testing we test for heartworm. If they're heartworm positive, if we have the funding we'll treat them. Since we are all volunteer and depend totally on donations we can't always afford to treat them, but if we have the funding we'll treat the heartworm positives and they'll go on to our next group. So we take our five dogs and we assign them primary trainers which is five of the inmates that actually are assigned a dog. And then there's two secondary inmates and those guys help. They help keep the kennels clean. They help feed the dogs and they learn about training the dogs. So they have them for five-seven weeks. They go down first thing in the morning and walk them and feed and train and their last visit at like 9:30 at night because the dogs are in kennels and they sleep in crates. So it's a seven day a week job and they spend about five, six, seven hours a day with the dogs training and working with them. So it's it's a great program.
We have a 100 percent adoption rate. Every graduate is in a home and we have people waiting for our dogs. So it's very successful and it's not just about the dogs either, it's rehabilitation for the inmate trainers. They learn a lot about sharing supplies and building trust and dealing with each other and working as a team for the better good of these animals. And they get to meet the families at graduation that adopt the dogs. We have a graduation ceremony so the families come in and the dogs have mortar boards with tassels and we play Pomp and Circumstance and the dogs walk down the aisle with their trainers and then the family comes up and actually accepts a leash from the inmate trainer and takes their dog home that day. And it's a very touching ceremony because a lot of times the newer guys really have a hard time handing their dogs over after eight weeks of that intensive time and watching them blossom and watching them get healthy and growing hair back and the whole the whole blooming process. They really, they really enjoy that. Gina: I can only imagine there's some tears. Monty: Yes. Yeah it is, it's it's quite, it's quite a moving thing and you're welcome to come to graduation. All you do is let me know. Put you on the list, you can watch. Gina: Cool. Monty: Yeah. Yeah it's it's pretty, it's really great and it's great reward for the volunteers because a lot of them help pull these shelter dogs. They are the ones who raise the funds. I mean, we're 100 percent volunteer. There's no paid staff, no, you know, every every dime that's donated to Monty's Home goes to care for the animals and keep the program running.
Gina: Where are the graduations?
Monty: Right in the prison.
Gina: Because the trainers can't leave.
Monty:No, they can't leave. It's a medium security. So, if they leave it's with armed guards, like on the roadside ant that type of stuff. But, no, they're really cooperative in this prison. They're very supportive of the program and with our success rate we're probably one of the most successful in the state. And one of the largest.
Gina: How are the prisoner trainers selected?
Monty: There's a process that the prison does first. They have to have a seventh grade education and they have to be physically capable of working with some of these dogs because some of them are big dogs. You got to move the crates and all that, and they can't have animal abuse or rape in their background. And so, once they that is eliminated, a huge part of the population one of those three things, they apply for the job because it is a job and we do interviews. I just went there and interviewed this week. If a primary leaves, the primary that's assigned as a trainer, then the one of the two secondaries moves up to his spot and then we interview and put a new secondary at the bottom. So the inmates can stay group after group after group if they want to. Our best trainers stay with us. We've got one in there now-he's been with us for at least six years. And the other one's been a few years like that. Then they can maybe go to minimum security where they can continue work in a different dog program, hopefully. And then when they get out, we've had huge success with our dog trainers-the ones that keep up with us. You know, getting jobs and working on the outside and so it's definitely a rehabilitation for them and skills that they can use and something that they love doing.
Gina: Let's say that you were able to expand this program. Like if you, let's say that you got a huge grant and if you were able to expand how would you? Which direction would you go? Would you just add more dogs to this prison or would you go to another location or what?
Monty: Well actually, expansion is in our very near future, hopefully. We did have some land donated to build a facility outside the prison to do what we're doing inside the prison. We're, we're really successful in there. We see that people really like the idea that they're doing rescue without the risk. Rescue without the risk. That's cute. But I mean, there's always a risk. It's a dog. Dogs will be dogs. But the facility outside, we can bring-the state regulates- very the program with the state in the prison system we can only, we have to keep the dogs for so many weeks. We can only bring certain breeds of dogs. We cannot bring in Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Chows, I mean they got a big list of their breed specific. And there's just a lot of regulations with them. Outside of that, we wouldn't have those regulations. If we felt a dog was trained in four weeks, which a lot of them are, we could adopt it out at four weeks. So we could do a much larger number of dogs outside the prison. So we have, we had some land donated but the land didn't perk so we couldn't build on it. We have several irons in the fire to build a facility to do just this. Absolutely. And of course money is the big thing to do any of this type of stuff. But it's definitely something that's our next step in the very near future if we can.
Gina: Who would be your trainers at that location?
Monty: Well, I'd be the primary trainer. I'm a certified professional dog trainer so I would oversee the trainers. One of our other volunteers is certified through different- the Animal Behavior College. We have one of our volunteers right now that's going in the process through the Animal Behavior College so. And then the volunteers that go to these classes over and over and over again, and it is just basic, basic training of-it's not like we're training service dogs or something like that-it's training a dog not to jump on somebody and knock them over. I could train you in a day to do that. So it's basic dog training that we can-it's not behavioral, it's not aggressive dog training, it's not, you know, these problem dogs because we're still going to use our temperament testing because if you go to the shelter and there's 50 dogs and we can take five, we're not going to take a dog with issues. We're going to take the dogs that we can train to be a good family companion. We're going to take that adolescent dog that has all over the leash, doesn't know how to walk, is knocking things over, and we're going to calm them down and make him a good pet and crate train him. And so we'll do the same thing with this building and I know our success rate just proves itself. And the families are very, very happy with their dogs. We have so few returns. And if we do it's usually either a financial hardship or something like that. It's not the dog. Or sometimes we test for dog/cat aggression but they get it home and there's a cat running-oh let me chase it, it looks like fun. And that can be too much for some people.
Gina: I just want to throw out there that a lot of folks, after they get out of prison, they have a really hard time getting work. And, you know, if you, if you're expanding-and that might be something to think about-in terms of maybe people who've did it before or, you know, people who are out, who are coming out of prison that who you think would be appropriate for the program. That might be something to think about.
Monty: Oh definitely. It is thought about and I'm not the only one thinking about it. I just got an email from a facility in Raleigh that they know that these inmates are really good workers and they-it isn't just training a dog. You've got veterinary skills. None of the dogs are healthy. I mean, they've got skin issues, they got parasites, you've got ear infections, you name it they've got it. They were just spayed/neutered. They've got surgical scars that have got to be cared for. They have skin issues of the skin has to be washed. So they learned all this veterinary -stuffgrooming. They've got a dremel, they've got to keep the dog's nails short. They've got to clean their ears and monitor their teeth. They learn about how to tell about whether the dog has an infection or an abscess or this or that. It's a big package of knowledge and they don't just train a dog, they know about animal behavior-how dogs learn. And that's the important part. And it shows with their training because in the eight week time that they have the dog they get their basic stuff done and then they're allowed to teach some tricks. The tricks-they're actually on our Facebook page-we recorded them the last graduation and what they did, they taught one of the bigger dogs to treat-one of the tricks-balanced a treat on his nose. One of the other dogs sat behind him. The dog in front flipped the treat up in the air and the dog behind him caught it. Yes. Very cute. And they thought of that trick themselves. So and then, the other one he, the dog went over and he told him to go night night. And the dog ran over to the bed, grabbed the corner of the blanket and rolled up in the blanket to go night night. Now, this was a Walker hound that wouldn't hunt. So if the dogs won't hunt they end up in the shelter. We had three Walker hounds the last time we tried to take the dogs that nobody wants as well. And black dogs and hound dogs are usually what there's a lot of out there.
Gina: I've had two rescued hound dogs.
Monty: Really? Yeah they're great family pets.
Gina: They are. Monty: I bet you've never seen one do that.
Gina: No I haven't. But both of them were abandoned by people hunting.
Yeah. Yeah and in Pender County it's more rural and further out you go, the worse the statistics and stuff gets. And and the reason is education. You know, and that's our third program with Monty's home is an education program to teach the children responsible pet ownership. Safety around dogs. Five million kids get bitten the face in this country every year because they aren't taught how to approach a dog and ask and the warning signs of a dog and the, you know, that's the time to teach them and responsibility. A dog is not garbage that you can throw in the shelter if you don't want it anymore. But, so the rescue is very important but so is the education.
Gina: How do people get involved? In what ways can people interact with Monty's Home? In terms of benefiting from what you're doing and supporting what you're doing.
Monty: Well, there's a lot of ways. Support, obviously donations and stuff on our Web site.
Gina: Do you have a fundraiser or anything like that? Or do you just take ongoing donations?
Monty: We have fundraisers all the time. We're out all the time. Out under a tent somewhere , orour biggest fundraiser is our Pet Expo which is in February. We have it at the Coastline Conference an Event Center. It has booths-pet related booths-and we have a huge silent auction which makes more than the Expo does. So we love donations of services or items for our silent auction. To attend is easy-it's only five bucks and it's on a Sunday and that's our big fundraiser. And a lot of information on our Web site about that. That takes about 40 volunteers just for that one day.
Because the dogs are in prison, we can't bring people in the prison to meet the dogs. So what we do is take all five dogs out and go to a pet store. Sometimes Hamstead, sometimes Wilmington, sometimes Leland. And then we have the families that are interested in adopting come to the pet store and meet the dogs because we require that they meet the dogs and if they have a dog, their dog has to meet our dog. So this takes volunteer time.
The adoption process if they meet that dog and they like it they can put a deposit. When we do a home check, they can put a deposit and that holds that particular dog until graduation. So most of our dogs are spoken for before they even graduate. So, and then they're allowed, like I said, to come to the graduation ceremony and watch their dogs graduate, watch them perform their tricks, and be doing the other stuff that shows the training of the dog. And it's really quite amazing to go from a shelter and then in eight weeks, go to this. This type of obedience training and focus. They do off leash healing and off leash work. And it's just it's amazing what the inmates accomplish with these shelter dogs in just a short period of time. So, yeah, there's always volunteer hours, volunteer time. On our Web site you can just email info at Monty'sHome.org. It comes directly to me. We have a core of volunteers that I send out an e-mail, hey we got the meet and greet coming up. We go to Poplar Grove every Wednesday and set up a tent and talk to people about the program and sell some of our merchandise. We have handmade merchandise like doggie bandanas and doggie beds that we sell that the are materials donated and some are made by the inmates in the prison and some are made by volunteers. There's always so much work to do because we are all volunteer.
Transcription assistance from PopUpArchive and Production Assistant Lindsay Wright