Big dogs, little dogs.

All kinds of dogs from the local animal shelter in Rawlins will be trained by inmates at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins.

Neicole Molden, the Warden at the penitentiary, said the inmates and staff are feeling excited.

Some of the inmates told Molden that they recognize parallels in the dogs' training and their own lives--the dogs are coming to the prison to get trained to do things, think differently, and go back into society.

"That's pretty much what's going on with them," said Molden. "They're learning different ways to handle challenges."

Wyoming State Penitentiary Courtesy
Wyoming State Penitentiary Courtesy

The program is designed to last about twelve weeks and follows a curriculum developed by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Once the dogs complete the program they will be returned to local shelters to be put up for adoption.

"I'm excited about it, nervous and excited. Nervous because it's our pilot. We're just starting it up here, you never know what challenges will be until they happen. I'm excited to see where it goes and thankful for this opportunity to hand this over to the inmates. When they have something to latch onto they know they have to stay out of trouble and they work harder because they don't want to mess this up. I really think it's going to be positive overall."

Dogs just have a way of making people happy.

Molden said she brought a couple dogs into the facility two weeks ago with little reindeer antlers for Christmas and it lifted everyone's spirits--both the staff and inmates.

"It's amazing to see what can happen just from people petting a dog."

For one inmate, it's been 23 years since he's touched an animal.

Molden said that after Deputy Norris came on, they started talking about getting the dog program at the penitentiary, which was about 3-4 months ago.

Ideally it's a win-win for both inmate and dog.

Wyoming State Penitentiary Courtesy
Wyoming State Penitentiary Courtesy

"It'll give them a sense of pride, a sense of caring for something, a sense of showing that they can be responsible.

Also it seems like the inmates really care about animals. It seems like some of them love them more than people."

It gives them a sense of accomplishment knowing that a dog has been trained and is now ready for adoption.

Helping a dog complete the training gives inmates something to be proud about, said Molden.

Of course, not everyone gets to participate. Anyone with a violent history against animals or people is not allowed to participate.

Eligible inmates have to be in minimum custody, have so many years write-up free, be in line with their treatment plan and finish all the things they've agreed to accomplish.

Molden said it looks like there's going to be five inmates participating in January.

"They are very excited. They've been wanting it, we were trying to get it started in October but that didn't work with the area and getting the dog equipment set up to run and play. They [the inmates] ask, 'when are we gonna do it, when are we gonna do it?'"

The five inmates that will begin in January have been trained to work with the dogs and look for certain behaviors.

"They're not fearful" said Warden.

Dogs are dogs, she said, "they do bite people," but inmates are understanding.

"I haven't seen any negative reaction to that" she said.

Wyoming State Penitentiary Courtesy
Wyoming State Penitentiary Courtesy

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