CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The last thing anyone would expect to see in a brig cafeteria is a dog. The Camp Pendleton Brig partnered with Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs to create POOCH, Prisoners Overcoming Obstacles & Creating Hope program. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Stephanie M. Kazior with Brig Co., Security & Emergency Services Bn., and Stephanie Santos, Training Director for TLCAD, work hand in hand to accomplish the mission and aid the inmates in staying on track.
POOCH was designed to provide inmates with vocational training enabling employment opportunities upon release from confinement and reducing recidivism. Training dogs help rehabilitate prisoners, by learning selflessness and responsibility through taking care of a living animal. They learn trust, unconditional love, and develop patience with new and untrained dogs.
Though not its primary objective, the program meets an increasing demand for service dogs. Each trained dog is given at no cost to disabled veterans and veteran families with autistic children.
The program currently involves 10 dogs and 14 prisoners. The participants volunteer their time and commit to the responsibility of caring for the dogs.
Only specific dogs are used. The breeds chosen are Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, and over eight weeks in age. These breeds are chosen due to their intelligence, dependability, and obedience.
Before being assigned as handlers, inmates must complete a three month group curriculum learning the fundamentals of training a dog, proper corrective actions, and animal upkeep. Once selected, inmates must stay in good standing to remain a dog handler.
“Since the program started, I’ve seen a change within the squad bay and staff…it’s pretty miraculous,” said Cpl. Kazior.
POOCH is an 18-24 month long program. The first 12 months consist of Assistance Dogs International standard training. The inmates start by giving the dog treats to reward desired behaviors slowly weaning them off in time. The program functions on positive reinforcement training techniques.
The rest of the program the dogs spend adhering to their future owner’s specific needs with two to three inmates assigned to handle and prepare the animal. During the day, everywhere the inmates go, the dog go including the cafeteria, chapel, class, and recreational deck.
Around this time, inmates and future owners work together to transition the dog.
“The homes and lives that are impacted by the tedious work that the staff and inmates have done here cannot be measured in numbers, but only by the stories of those families who have had their lives changed for the better,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Campoalegre, brig officer with Brig Co., Security & Emergency Services Bn.