Pups at Work

Prison inmates gain importance by rescuing, training dogs from shelters

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 4/7/21

CLAY COUNTY – Jennifer Kraus envisioned herself as a police officer in a K-9 unit, but she wound up working with inmates in Florida’s prison system to train dogs.

Non-violent inmates training …

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Pups at Work

Prison inmates gain importance by rescuing, training dogs from shelters

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – Jennifer Knaus envisioned herself as a police officer in a K-9 unit, but she wound up working with inmates in Florida’s prison system to train dogs.

Non-violent inmates training dogs is nothing new. It started in California and quickly gained momentum across the country. It’s a way for dogs to get trained, which makes them easier to adopt. And it’s a way for inmates to earn time off of their sentence, show good behavior, and ultimately make a friend that judges them not on the decisions of their past, but the people they are today.

Dogs are a man’s best friend, right?

“I love seeing how much it changes everybody involved,” Knaus said. “It changes the dogs, the inmates and everyone involved for the better. Everyone grows in positive ways through this. The dogs learn better behavior, the inmates learn patience...it’s a great program.”

Knaus originally planned to be in law enforcement working with K-9 units. Life had other plans, but Knaus still works with animals. Instead of chasing down potential criminals with a dog, she’s working with inmates and dogs.

Pups At Work is a 10-week course and each dog that passes the class earns the American Kennel Club Good Canine Citizen certification. This means they have basic obedience skills, are house-trained, can sit on command and more. This makes them much easier to adopt and helps us get them out to families, which is the ultimate goal, Kraus said.

She works with the Lawtey Prison in Bradford County, and there are three more prisons in the program. Many of the dogs are taken from kill shelters and brought to inmates. Not only are the inmates learning the patience it takes to train a dog and become friends with it, but animals that could possibly be put down are getting a new lease on life.

“Some of our guys [inmates] have been doing it for years,” Knaus said. “They love it. You have to think, some of these people don’t have anybody else in their lives. This dog might be it for them and you can really tell how special this relationship is between them and the dogs.”

Knaus said one of her favorite things is watching the inmates blossom out of their otherwise shy shells into bubbly, friendly people who look forward to training dogs. It makes them more confident in themselves, Knaus said.

She talked about how dogs recognize the good in people and it’s important for inmates to see that. Many of them talk of starting their own shelter or training service when they get out of prison, according to Knaus.

Knaus has been doing this for almost a year and it’s her favorite thing about working for Safe Animal Shelter in Middleburg.

“For me, I’d rather be a solution than someone else in the process,” Knaus said, speaking to how this dog training program knocks time off of the inmates’ time in prison and helps them grow to be better people. “They have everything going against them basically and many don’t have the support system they want or need. These dogs fill that hole.

“They give and give and they don’t ask for anything in return but love. That’s what makes dogs special, right? They bring sparks of life, of inspiration, of hope back to the inmates and you can watch that happen in real time. Their aspiration for a life outside of prison returns and that’s amazing to see.”

 

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