A dog named Remo was discovered badly abused, emaciated, close to death, and stuffed inside a metal box on a hot day in Florida. He was suffering from dehydration and skin disease, and parasites riddled his body.
Shockingly, Remo greeted Putnam County Animal Officers with a friendly, wagging tail, ready to get a new chance at life. Unfortunately, the shelter in town was full and had he been left there, his story would have ended in euthanasia.
Jen Deane, founder of Pit Sisters, a non-profit dedicated to rehabilitating difficult-to-place dogs of all breeds, immediately stepped in. She was not willing to let the dog that had somehow not already given up on humans, be put down.
After months in the hospital healing from the wounds of his abuse, Remo furthered his rehabilitation through the TAILS program run by Pit Sisters. TAILS, Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills, is a prison program that uses inmates to re-socialize difficult shelter dogs.
In the TAILS program, a dog is matched with two inmates. One of which is with the dog 24 hours a day. The inmates are responsible for the dog’s daily activities; and are expected to reinforce the training taught by professional dog trainers.
By the end of the dog’s 8-week stay in the program, rehabilitated dogs should be responsive to basic commands like “sit” and “stay” as well as be leash, potty, and crate trained. The dogs move on to be placed in forever homes; long-term foster homes until they are adopted; or will remain with the inmates until suitable placement has been established.
More than the second chance these dogs are getting, the TAILS program enriches the inmates who participate.
One shared, “For the dogs to listen to us, we have to be stable. This program is bringing stability to unstable people. It’s better to give than receive and we are truly blessed to receive the opportunity. This program gives us all renewed strength to strive to become better people in our everyday lives.”
While many talk about how large the prison population is, few are actively developing ways to reduce recidivism. Programs like TAILS gives these inmates a chance at learning how to connect with another living being in a meaningful way; improving their ability to re-acclimate to civilian life.
While dogs are learning to take direction, inmates are learning to trust, cooperate, build patience, gain confidence, and heal wounds from their pasts. Program evaluators have been astonished at how caring and protective the inmates are over the dogs.
Meanwhile, prison officials report that the canine influence has compelled inmates to talk things out rather than fight. Overall stress has gone down and a Baker Correctional Facility warden posits that inmates participating in the program exhibit more self-control; because they now have a purpose: caring for these dogs.
Julian Williams of the Jacksonville Bridge Community Release Center has managed the TAILS program from the correctional facility side since 2015. He reflects on the protective nature of the inmates over the dogs, stating, “it shows me that regardless of what these guys have gone through, there is a lot of hope for them [after release]… I have the utmost respect and admiration for these men.”
Remo’s beautiful spirit helped inmate trainer Howard Culpepper. When Culpepper was 13, he was bitten by a dog and had since avoided them.
After hearing Remo’s heartbreaking story, Culpepper melted and knew that Remo was the dog he needed to help. As time went on, Culpepper began to see dogs differently relaying through a spokesperson, “The fact that Remo is so loving and happy after all he’s been through caused [him] to learn to love again.”
Remo flew through his behavioral rehabilitation with flying colors, being one of only five dogs to earn his PhD in behavior from Pit Sisters’ TAILS program. He has gained 30 lbs. and most of his physical injuries have healed.
He is happy, healthy, and ready to be adopted. His entire team hopes that this fantastic spirit goes to a tremendous home.