‘Make sure they feel loved:’ Women incarcerated at Orange County jail train dogs for adoption – Orange County Register

Six women incarcerated in Theo Lacy Prison sat together on a patch of grass with two small dogs prancing around them, the women’s hands outstretched with treats for their canines, who paused by walking between the two ends of the fenced and barbed wire enclosures scurried.

The women first met the dogs on Thursday after two weeks of training. Now they will spend the next eight to ten weeks with the two dogs, preparing them for their future adoption.

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • An inmate at Theo Lacy Facility works with a dog in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff officials are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates who have been selected to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Angelique Outhuyse, Center, joins other inmates at Theo Lacy Facility as they work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff officials are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates who have been selected to train dogs for adoption – The Dogs That Offer Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Jeanette Thomas, right, Executive Director of Cell Dogs, brings two dogs to the inmates of Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff officials are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines, Providing Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Angelique Outhuyse, left, joins other inmates of the Theo Lacy Facility on Thursday, August 5, 2021 while they work with dogs in Orange, California. Orange County Sheriff officials are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates who have been selected to train dogs for adoption – The Dogs That Offer Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

  • Inmates at Theo Lacy Facility work with dogs in Orange, California on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Orange County Sheriff’s officers are presenting a resuscitation program for select inmates chosen to train dogs for adoption – The Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register / SCNG)

“Most of the people who have been in custody at some point have been thrown away – these dogs are the same, they were thrown away,” said Dominic Mejico, who administers Canines Offering Life Lessons and Rewards, or COLLAR. as well as other programs in Orange County prisons. “A lot of these people who work with these dogs, these women, as cheesy as it may sound, are learning to love someone again.”

Angelique Outhuyse is serving a two-year prison sentence for drug possession and fraud.

“They usually come from bad backgrounds and are nervous to be with anyone and every animal and everything,” she said of the dogs. “We train them … so people can trust them to be home to have them as part of a family.”

While Outhuyse sat cross-legged, Blossom, a petite black Australian kelp mix, came up to her, sniffed and licked her mouth through the woman’s mask.

“She wouldn’t get close to anyone for a month!” said Janette Thomas, director and founder of the nonprofit Cell Dogs.

The organization rescues shelter dogs that are about to be euthanized. Thomas offers the training program to women incarcerated in the Orange County Jail, and the six women currently on the program form the first cohort of trainees at Theo Lacy.

Previously, the program was run in the now-closed facility by James A. Musick and for detained youth in Orange County and female inmates at the California Institution for Women in Chino.

The pandemic has kept personal programs like Cell Dogs out of jail for the past year.

In total, thousands of inmates have trained more than 450 dogs adopted through the program, Thomas said. Some prison staff even adopted the dogs after training. Prison officials say the recidivism rate tends to be lower among inmates going through the program.

The imprisoned women are neither paid for training the dogs, nor are they credited towards earlier release. At the end of the program, however, the women receive a certificate of their training experience, which can lead to employment after being laid off.

It is difficult to find jobs for those previously incarcerated with criminal offenses on their files. Many companies draft guidelines that omit applicants with criminal records. If possible, Thomas said, her organization will write letters of recommendation for women who apply to places like Petco or Petsmart to work as a dog trainer. Others have founded their own companies, such as dog day care centers or the training of service dogs.

“It’s great to see them become confident, independent and successful,” said Thomas.

Outhuyse said she rescued and trained dogs, usually pit bulls and rottweilers, that people would leave behind. She hopes that after she is released from prison, she will be able to continue working as a dog trainer.

The women in the program are required to look after the dogs on a daily basis, with a detailed feeding schedule, potty breaks, socializing the dogs with other women in the dorm units, training, grooming and play sessions, and keeping records of the dogs’ behavior and health.

As the second dog, Tanner, a mix of Pomeranian and Cocker Spaniel, continued to hop around the fenced-in enclosure, nibbling Blossom’s ears as she lay tiredly on the grass, Thomas gave the women some farewell instructions:

“Your job for the next week is to make them feel loved.”