It's a symbiotic relationship: incarcerated people train rescue pups so they can be re-homed, and many of the human participants pursue dog training as a lifelong profession. California dog rescue, Marley's Mutts Rescue Ranch, created this rehabilitation program, called Pawsitive Change. Green Matters caught up via email with the program's founder, a graduate of the program, and the founder of Grounds & Hounds, a philanthropic coffee company that partnered with the rescue this month.
"Some of the toughest case shelter dogs are put into a 14 week supervised training program, instructed by incarcerated people, where the dogs are socialized for adoption," Jordan Karcher of Grounds & Hounds explains. "At the same time, the participants completing the program are learning valuable skills, not only professional animal training but also the basics of leadership and teamwork."
Pawsitive Change has a powerful origin story.
As previously mentioned, Pawsitive Change is a program run by Marley's Mutts Rescue Ranch that connects incarcerated people with dogs who come from high-kill shelters. The program teaches the human participants to properly train the dogs, and they each receive a Good Canine Citizen award — and ideally get adopted — in the end. It also inspires many of the program's graduates to pursue dog training once they're released from prison... and almost 100 percent of the graduates have stayed out of prison afterwards.
"The Pawsitive Change Program came to be after we adopted a dog who had been shot to a gentleman who had just gotten out of prison. That dog would change his life, helping him achieve his countless jobs in animal welfare, including founding his own rescue! After the change that occurred in his life, we knew we had to bring the program to the prison system," says founder of Marley's Mutts and its Pawsitive Change Program, Zach Skow.
"Our program changes [the incarcerated peoples'] lives in many ways... they gain self-esteem, self-worth, and self-love by working with shelter dogs, whose lives they are saving. Mutual rescue and rehab is what it really is!" he explains.
Pawsitive Change augments the lives of prisoners in more ways than one.
Dogs are an incredibly enriching and life-changing life addition. It's been proven that having a pet lowers your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, according to the CDC. It also motivates you to be responsible for someone other than yourself, and this program in particular inspires participants to pursue dog training as a lifelong career. For Daniel Robinson, who graduated from the program in 2017, it happened this way, and he says it opened many doors for him.
"My experience in the Pawsitive Change Program was amazing in so many ways! It’s opened so many doors for me — figuratively and otherwise," he explains. "The program created an environment in which we were able to re-inculcate a sense of humanity within ourselves, allowing us to become the compassionate, benevolent leaders the dogs required to thrive in society."
Robinson says the chance to connect with dogs really changed his life.
"The Pawsitive Change Program changed my life by providing me with the guided purpose and the wherewithal to teach dogs and their owners how to build a stronger, healthier bond together," he says. "It’s given each dog a real chance to find a happy, loving home. It’s also endowed me with the opportunity to provide people in society with much needed perspective on the wellspring of untapped potential within each incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individual."
Now, Robinson runs a full dog training business.
"I’m currently operating my private dog training business, Doggy Jitsu," he tells us. "I do not parent a dog at the moment, but I’m searching tirelessly for the right one to be my companion and my primary employee. I hope to find a dog with the right temperament to help me rehab many more struggling dogs long into the future."
Skow hopes this will change the prison system.
As we know, the prison system is incredibly flawed, but Pawsitive Change is rehabilitating in all senses of the word — it gives incarcerated people something to do that's mentally stimulating and healing, while also creating possible future careers.
"[The human participants] learn to be aware of their energy, to accept love, to accept constructive criticism and direction and — this is very important — to the world outside of their race," Skow says. "Prison is radically segregated. Long term, more than half of our released graduates have found jobs or started companies in the pet industry!"
"My hope for prison is that we start caring for those who are incarcerated by providing programming like ours in prison," he continues. "Without programming, we will continue to have a 75 percent recidivism rate. Our hope for the program is that it’s added to as many prison facilities as possible. It’s a 100 percent scalable program, which ought to be invested in by our community."
Grounds & Hounds is donating all profits from its Rescue Blend to Pawsitive Change through July.
Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. partnered with Marley's Mutts to promote and support this incredible program. Through the end of July, the brand will be donating 100 percent of the profits from its ever-popular Rescue Roast ($14.99) to Marley's Mutts' Pawsitive Change Program. The founder of Grounds & Hounds, Jordan Karcher, says these funds will be allocated to expanding the program to more correctional facilities.
"This is actually the second time we've partnered with Marley's Mutts Pawsitive Change through Rescue Roast. Our first outing raised almost $10,000, helping Marley's Mutts to expand to additional correctional facilities. This time, funds from Rescue Roast will help take the program to the next level" Karcher says.
"Dog graduates of the program who excel will be selected to receive additional training to become emotional support animals. These pups will then be given to a veteran in need, free of charge. We'd certainly be excited to see the new heights we would reach if we were to partner with Marley's Mutts for a third Rescue Roast program."
Both dogs and people deserve a second chance — and this program clearly honors that.