Paws Behind Bars Training Program Offers Inmates & Dogs 2nd Chance
Many times large untrained dogs are very difficult to find homes for due to their needs and nature, enter Titan the lovable Great Pyrenees who is high strung as he is cute. Also, enter Douglas Hall the man sitting in Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Oldham County KY serving a 25-year sentence. Douglas works in the Paws behind Bars program and as an inmate has all the time in the world to take on a Big Dog, with a big heart, and very bigs needs. I believe that programs like this are mutually beneficial to both parties. Becoming ingratiated into the prison lifestyle is often a huge problem for inmates because after they have finished their sentence they are no longer able to conform back to the real world. The responsibilities of caring for a dog and training an animal can be hugely beneficial in rehabbing prisoners like Douglas who is serving time for a violent crime. Douglas has said that he would like his work to continue even after he is released, Saying he would like to work with service dogs on gun control. Learn more about all the things Paws Behind Bars does, or read on to learn all about Titan’s story!
The Dog Who Got a Second Chance … in Prison
From homeless to prison to parole, how this abandoned ‘sweet monster’ of a dog found his forever home.
By Dana McMahan
Story and Images originally sourced from NBC NEWS
“He’s the sweetest monster we’ve ever seen.”
The first time we found Titan when he ran away, that’s what the women who’d caught him running down the street and leashed him up said. The year-old Great Pyrenees/German Shepherd mix, littermate to our own dog, had jumped his owner’s fence and we’d gone in search of him.
Nearly a year later he was out again, and this time his owner was done. “Whoever finds him can keep him,” said their Facebook post late this spring. We only knew Titan from a few puppy playdates, having been connected through the farmer who gave us Cash. The chicken farmer we knew from buying her delicious eggs at the market; when our loss of a dog coincided with her Great Pyr livestock guardian escaping (it must run in the family!) and coming back later to have a litter of beautiful puppies, it seemed fate that we took little Cassius Thunderpaws (Cash) home. I met up with Titan’s person a couple of times to let the boys romp, and stayed in touch on Facebook to admire dog photos as both our boys grew.
But when I learned he was roaming busy city streets we had to go get him. It didn’t take long, asking everyone nearby if they’d seen a big brown dog running loose, for my husband and I to find him in an alley and get him home. His owner relinquished him gratefully.
And now what? I asked myself. We couldn’t keep him. Running an Airbnb out of our home would make it impossible to have a giant wildling on the loose — he was a freight train when he wasn’t tethered or in a (giant) crate — and I wasn’t physically up to the job of training such a strong, willful dog. We had virtually no backyard, and I couldn’t let him run off-leash in our nearby park like his trained brother for much-needed exercise.
That left re-homing him. What’s the old saying about trying to sell a ketchup popsicle to a man in a white suit? That’s what it felt like as I tried to wrangle someone into taking Titan. Free to good home: Large male dog, puppy inside a pony’s body. Wreaks havoc and needs abundant exercise but you won’t be able to walk him. Behind on veterinary care. Cries if you go out of his sight, pees when he’s happy. But I promise he’s a hunk’a burning love, guys, and so smart! OK I didn’t say that exactly, but I had to be truthful lest Titan end up on the run again.
FINDING A HOME FOR TITAN
There were no takers. I grew more desperate, pleading with rescues, posting on Facebook groups for Great Pyr owners, and writing everyone I knew who might help. I cried every time I looked at his big, sweet face. Titan had so much love to give.
I’d learned by now that rescue organizations are overwhelmed, absolutely flooded, with unwanted dogs. Titan had to compete for a spot with untold numbers of pups whose people had given them up. I wanted to launch a new hashtag campaign to balance the good intentions of #adoptdontshop. Please, by all means, adopt a rescue if you will commit to the dog. But where is the accountability for owners that dump their dogs? Where is the #dogsareforkeeps campaign? I knew all those abandoned dogs needed help as much as Titan did and I couldn’t help all of them, but I could help this one, and I doubled down.
Finally one of my “Can you help find Titan a home?” emails clicked. A local media personality who had a big following and was a passionate advocate for rescues shared my Titan post. It got in front of somebody who knew somebody who worked with a local nonprofit called Adopt Me! Bluegrass Pet Rescue that partnered with Luther Luckett Correctional Complex outside of Louisville, Kentucky, on a prison training program. It would be perfect — Titan could be paired with someone who had all the time in the world to work with him. The connection made, I poured all my efforts into getting them to take him.
“Look at his potential,” I pleaded, sending photos and videos of his brother’s off-leash heel and long-distance recall. I knew Titan could do this too, with enough training. Happily, the folks at the rescue agreed to meet with us.
And the sweet monster won their hearts as swiftly as he had won ours. I couldn’t help sobbing as I drove away after turning him over to the wonderful women, but knew he was on the right path. And as soon as I saw a progress photo from the prison I could breathe easy.
TITAN GOES TO PRISON
Titan was paired with Douglas Hall, a 40-year-old who’d been incarcerated nine years before and was now part of the Paws Behind Bars training program. He, too, saw the sweet monster’s potential. In a written interview midway through training (the prison declined my request for a visit), “Titan’s response to training has been really remarkable,” Hall told NBC News BETTER. “He is very smart picking up a new command. His drive to please and work for treats is impressive.”
Hall could offer what Titan needed: undivided attention, and patience. “Titan and I spend almost every hour of the day together,” he said. Starting before sun-up, “when I feed him or take him out to potty Titan is always in training,” he went on. Everything was an opportunity for Titan to learn how to behave outside of prison — how to eat without guarding his food, how to wait at exposed thresholds and not cross without his handler, how to walk with a loose leash, not jump on people, not run up to other dogs, ignore distractions. “Each day I try [to] work on composure, visitor control, walk, heel, sit, down, stay, and come,” Hall said.
But it wasn’t just Titan who benefited. “Titan is my emotional support animal,” Hall said. He took Titan to an AA meeting, where the dog’s loving nature was a hit. “Titan is very popular with everyone on the yard,” he added. “Everyone wants to pet him and see him.”
“This program helps inmates on the yard who may be dealing with hardships in their life,” Hall said. “It’s therapy for everyone.” And it “does so much more than train dogs for adoption,” he went on. “We are teaming up with the community to save dogs and help other families that need a therapy, service, or emotional support dog. Each time a dog is adopted [I] feel that the community is giving us, the inmate, a second chance.”
Paws Behind Bars also sparked a passion in Hall. He didn’t know how to hold a leash when he began the program, he said, but after training 60 dogs, including some for therapy and service work, he wants to become a licensed trainer when he is released, he said. “I would like to one day work with a non-profit to put therapy dogs in schools to help with … gun violence,” he said.
There will be many more dogs to train in the meantime; Hall is serving 25 years. “In July of 2003 I injured my left knee at work,” he explained. “I was going to one doctor to the next. Each one would write more pain pills out for me. …I did not know how addiction would take over my life. In January of 2006, I agreed to drive my co-offender to rob a drug dealer in Madison County, Kentucky. My co-offender he killed the woman who lived there. …This horrible crime should never have happened and I am remorseful to all that was hurt that day.”
While it can be hard to see a dog he’s bonded leave, “my hopes and dreams for Titan is to go to a family who loves him more than I do,” Hall said. “The family will use the training … so that he can go out for walks or a baseball game. So the family and others can enjoy this big happy dog. Titan will instantly put a smile on your face and make any family happier.”
Titan finished the training program this summer and we went to see him at an adoption event. Though the change in his behavior was nothing short of miraculous — I could walk him on a leash! — …
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