From puppy to prison

C.J.'s Paws with a Cause training in prison

MUSKEGON, MICH. - We last saw CJ just as she began training at Muskegon Correctional Facility. Now, after four months of training her days there are numbered.

She's endured hours of repetitive tasks that PAWS With A Cause training Manager Mike Hannah says is designed to help CJ become the best assistance dog possible.

“You see when those dogs are backing up and moving and pivoting it allows our dogs with our clients to move through the environment and work as a team better," said Hannah. 

But CJ's training isn't just for her, it's also for the prisoners.

"For some of them it's learning how to love someone and to be loved.", Warden Sherry Burt of the Muskegon Correctional Facility says the PAWS Prison Program was met with a little resistance at first from both the staff and the prisoners. But that didn't stop her from going forward with the partnership, "It was a chance for the prisoners to give back to the community. I thought it would also have an impact on the moral here and provide some skills."

Two years later she says that list just keeps growing, “How to socialize with one another, how to learn to give empathy to others. I think it's taught them to interact not only here but with their families as well. It also teaches them I think parenting skills which I think is very very important."

Each prisoner goes through a rigid process to become part of the PAWS program.

There's an application, a prison behavior background check and a lengthy interview process before being put on a waiting list.

PAWS Program coordinator Leeanne Vanslooten says this is a position prisoners take seriously, "They want to produce an obedient dog for someone on the outside."

And they are according Hannah, "The precision and consistency that we end up supplying to the trainers that create the end result and match it with the clients it is now an integral part of the PAWS system."
From Puppy to Prison our CJ has just one more step in the process to go. In a few days she'll be headed back to PAWS to complete her training.

And then a whole new set of pups will continue the prison training process because Warden Burt says this program isn't going away any time soon, "As long as I'm here I plan on keeping the program."

So, what's next for CJ?

She heads back to PAWS With A Cause for about 4 to 6 months. Where they develop whatever "career" she's decided she wants to have. And they search for a client.

She's got a ways to go yet before she finds her forever home. We're going to check in on her in a few months and see how her training with PAWS is going.

If you’re interested in being a puppy raiser for Paws With A Cause they are always looking for volunteers.

You can contact them here.

Keep up with CJ's journey, friend her on Facebook!

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