Alaqua Animal Refuge is a special place of healing for animals. Since 2007, the no kill refuge has taken in thousands of unwanted, neglected and abandoned animals, all of which are given a second chance in life. Through their efforts, Alaqua finds happy homes for most.
At times, circumstances prove challenging, as some dogs arrive at the refuge severely neglected or abused. The psychological damage they incurred causes them to shy away from humans, which in turn makes them less likely to be adopted. When these situations occur; Alaqua has a special outreach called their Unconditional Love Program.
The refuge is working with inmates at the Walton Correctional Institution to train the dogs to become companions. Once a pack of 10 is chosen, the dogs spend 10-12 weeks in at the prison. The inmates, who are both trainers and caretakers, spend 24/7 with their dog. A prison trainer and Alaqua staff spend about 14 hours per week at the facility leading the training sessions. During the first two weeks, the inmates and canines utilize basic orientation skills. The remainder of the program is dedicated to training exercises with the dogs learning to sit, stand, heel and leash walk, ultimately leading to program completion.
The practice of Jin Shin Jyutsu is introduced early on and practiced by inmates throughout the course of the program. Jin Shin Jyutsu is an ancient art that harmonizes the balance of body, mind and spirit through hands-on practice. This practice enhances the bond and results in the ability for the canine to grow, change and ultimately experience healing and harmony.
The inmates benefit from the program as well, learning empathy, patience and respect while teaching the dogs basic skills. Similar programs report 97% of inmate handlers and sitters demonstrated greater empathy and decreased depression during incarceration; 87% demonstrated improved communication skills; and institutional staffs report a decrease in disciplinary issues and improved institutional adjustment by inmates involved in canine training programs. The program demonstrates a true picture of second chances, both to the canine and to the inmate.
A sense of responsibility was the biggest reward mentioned by inmates at the most recent graduation ceremony January 26, 2016.
“The program has done a lot for me, teaching me compassion and responsibility. It’s helped me open up and be something productive,” said inmate C. Justice.
There were approximately 40 people in attendance at the ceremony. Many had tears in their eyes as they witnessed the success of the program as they watched the inmates show off their hard work.
Alaqua volunteers Cathy Potter, and Chase Johnson, were in attendance. Both were extremely excited to watch two dogs in particular, Poppy and Marigold graduate.
“Poppy and Marigold came in with about 4 other similar sized dogs and some bigger dogs from a rescue who’s owner had died leaving them with no one to care for them. Alaqua took many of them. The other small dogs got adopted pretty quickly. They were more socialized than Poppy and Marigold, especially Marigold. She was petrified on the day she came in and wouldn’t let anyone come near her,” said Potter.
Some of the dogs that graduated already have new forever homes, one going on to become a service dog, and a few are still available for adoption at Alaqua.
The Unconditional Love Program is supported by public donation. If you would like to donate, sponsor a dog or learn more about the Unconditional Love Program, go to:
http://www.alaquaanimalrefuge.org/programs/community-outreach/unconditional-love/ or call Jody Bailen, operations manager at (850) 880-6691.