Beyond Pit Bulls & Parolees: How Prison Pup Training Programs Are Changing Lives

by Amber Kingsley


Often convicted inmates get a bad reputation for being bad people, instead of someone who could have simply made a mistake, compared to a career criminal. Pit bulls have also been given an undeserved negative reaction from some people due to the behaviors of a few, poorly trained dogs. Similar to the television show, Pit Bulls and Parolees,” people are working together to change this stigma for the better and using training programs similar to that as showcased on the Animal Planet series mentioned above, this is rewarding to people and pets.


Training a service animal is very rewarding, but it is also a time consuming and expensive process. In an innovative twist, rehabilitation programs similar to the reality show as highlighted above are beneficial for everyone involved. The inmates are not only teaching young canines, it is also training these prisoners to possibly become dog trainers, groomers or animals technicians after their release from incarceration.


Volunteers and staff members provide inmates with training classes every week, along with weekend sessions throughout the month that show inmates the proper way to train puppies.


Women and Children First

The California Institution for Women in Chino, became the first prison in the state of California to have a Service Dog Training Program back in 2002. Since then, The Prison Pup Program has grown into training more than twenty dogs with fifty handlers at this institution. The women inmates are given responsibility for a dog at eighteen months of age and they remain together for up to six months for training.


After the success of the Chino’s Prison Pup Program, in 2008, the Southwest Juvenile Hall in Riverside County began a vision of assisting at-risk youths with life skills through a similar program. In this case, two young men are tasked with a twelve to sixteen week dog training program. The juveniles learn basic obedience using positive reinforcement techniques along with health care and grooming skills.


Benefits Abound

The canine graduates of these programs go on to become a vital tool for their disabled clients, forming a loving bond that is beneficially emotionally, physically and mentally. It is clearly a win-win situation for everyone involved from the inmate trainers, the dogs and the disabled clients they go on to assist as invaluable service dogs.


For their inmate handlers and trainers, the benefits are plentiful as these types of programs give them a sense of purpose and a way to give back to society. These trainers also learn the importance of bonding with these animals and ultimately will gain valuable work experience through their training and education. This will aid many of these inmates in finding gainful employment once they are released and returned to society rather than the possibility of returning to a life of crime.

Expanding to Men

Both the Prison Pups and the Southwest Juvenile Hall programs have been so successful that Canine Support Teams have expanded their programs to include the California Institute for Men in the summer of 2015. This expansion could use your help, so if you’d like to donate, please visit our Kindful donation page. If you’d like to find out information on volunteering and other ways to help, you can learn more at our CST support site.




About the Author

Travel junkie, Amber Kingsley, is a freelance writer living in Santa Monica, CA. Her art history background helps her hone in on topics that are of interest to readers. She is a dog enthusiast and loves spending time with her Pomeranian, Agatha.

Shelter Chic: Coming Soon to NY


I absolutely love meeting young, innovative people with a desire to serve the less fortunate. I have recently made the acquaintance of just that. A beautiful young woman named Brittany Feldman with a bright idea to help animals in need with a neat concept and a fantastic name – “Shelter Chic”.


Shelter Chic is a completely different type of shelter experience than what we are all used to. The main goal is to attract the public to shelters as opposed to buying pets from breeders or pet stores and also to make it a positive experience, not a sad one. How many times have you been to an animal shelter and felt depressed by the whole thing? Staring into the eyes of a sad dog in a dreary looking cage can put quite the damper on your mood. Shelter Chic will change that entirely. One of the main components to making the experience unique is a boutique that will be located at the front of the shelter which will carry an array of products for animals and humans as well making an emphasis on products that do not test on animals. The proceeds from the boutique will go towards maintaining the shelter.

As soon as you walk in to Shelter Chic you will feel happy because of the funky atmosphere. Leopard print litter boxes, quirky t-shirts for the employees and the best part is that the animals will all be dressed to impress. Tutus, bow ties - the whole nine, because well animals can have style too! How can you not smile when you see a dog in a tutu? Exactly! This shelter will leave you with a sense of happiness and joy not sadness.               

(This is the logo for Shelter Chic, cute isn't it?)


Upon first hearing about this I was extremely happy to find that such a young woman had such an amazing vision and it is all in the name of helping animals. I wanted to delve a little deeper and ask Brittany a few questions.


When did you know you wanted to help animals?

Since childhood I have been a crazy animal lover (I used to play with insects and considered the ants in our backyard my pets). But a few years ago I started watching Pit Bulls and Parolees on Animal Planet and it had an enormous impact on me. I started sponsoring pit bulls from Villalobos Rescue Center and planned a trip to New Orleans to visit them. After meeting the dogs and seeing what they had been through, I quickly saw the resiliency, ability to forgive, and the overwhelming love the pit bull breed has to give. The people working at Villalobos were dedicated, passionate, and devote their lives 24 hours a day 7 days a week to saving animals. I knew I wanted to be a part of that. I became friends with one of the employees, telling him my desire to help, and he said "you know, you don't need to come to New Orleans to help, you can get involved in NY" And that's when I started volunteering at a shelter in Manhattan.I always knew I wanted to help animals, but Villalobos made me want to take action. After getting involved in the rescue world and seeing that there were still so many people buying animals from pet stores and breeders, I came up with Shelter Chic, a fancified and funkified shelter meant to attract the non-shelter crowd. I sat on this dream of mine for over two years, when finally this past May I told one of my closest friends Amanda Folk about the idea. She loves animals and works in business and finance, and it was clear she would be the perfect business partner. She couldn't wait to put her knowledge and expertise to such a good cause. We've been working together ever since.

How did you come up with the name?

I was talking about the idea with a friend in May and he just blurted out "Shelter Chic". I originally wanted to name it Bally's Bitches (Bally is my childhood family nickname) and I wanted to go for that edge. After discussing it with Amanda, we realized that the name Shelter Chic would appeal perfectly to the crowd we were aiming at, those that tend to have a stigma against shelters. The juxtaposition of the two words works against this stigma. I love the name, I think it explains what we're about perfectly.

Do you have any rescues of your own?

I have a cat named Harris that I fostered and soon after adopted from the shelter that I used to work at. He was found alone in a box in a park and brought to us. I bought my dog Georgie from a pet store when
I was in college in 2006. I didn't know about puppy mills or the importance of adoption at the time. Georgie and Harris are best friends, it is adorable. They are the loves of my life.

When could we expect Shelter Chic to open it's doors?

Realistically we are aiming to be open by Summer 2015, although we hope it will be sooner (our paperwork is in process but there is a waiting period while it is still under review). In the meantime we are raising awareness about our cause and beginning to fundraise. We are currently looking for a space in lower Manhattan, which is very exciting!

What message would you like to give to anyone who doesn't want to adopt from a shelter?


When you adopt from a shelter, you save a life. Animals from shelters come from all different places. Some animals in shelters are former strays, some are rescued from abusive situations, and some are purebred dogs and cats that wind up in shelters after being
surrendered by their owner for various reasons. There are kittens and puppies in shelters, too. You can find any type of dog or cat in a shelter, if you look. It is heartbreaking to see homeless animals in cages, but if you truly love animals and want to welcome one into your family, why not save one? They might just end up saving you, too.



We need more people like this, who truly care about the well being of animals. Cheers to you Brittany! Keep up the good work and I will be looking forward to taking my first trip to NYC when Shelter Chic opens its doors. 



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