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Rescued dogs, inmates improving each others' lives

TAILS Program continues to rehab man, man's best friend

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Wednesday is graduation day for an abused dog that was rescued, made well and trained by inmates for adoption.

Remo was confiscated because of owner abuse. After two months of rehab, Remo entered the Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills Program, known as TAILS.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has the TAILS program at Montgomery Correctional Center on the Northside.

The program is a canine-inmate intervention program where inmates learn to train and work with dogs.

Howard Culpepper is an inmate at Montgomery Correctional he has chosen a path of change. He decided the best way for him to do that is through the TAILS program, working with Remo.

"It's changed my life being in the program," Culpepper said. "He's a loving caring dog. I'm so sorry for what happened to him in that cage in Putnam County. It's terrible what happened to him."

Before he was rescued, Remo was abused and lived in a small cage for about a year. Jen Dean with Pit Sisters Rescue took Remo in, knowing he would be perfect for the TAILS program.

"The inmates have told me they see themselves in the dog so they can completely relate to the issues that they're having it makes that bond that much greater," Dean said.

Remo has been training with Culpepper for 8 weeks and has reached the highest level, earning a PhD in dog training. In turn, dogs, including Remo, are teaching the inmates good character traits, like patience, goal setting and friendship.

It’s the first time in a lot of cases they have felt loved and get that unconditional love, and it gives them a sense of responsibility.

Officer Lisa Irre with the Sheriff’s Office says she can see a change in behavior just a couple of weeks into the TAILS program.

"The dogs can bring out things and the guys that people cannot and allow them to learn how to be emotional again," Irre said. "Some of them have been judged there whole life of a dog does not judge them by anything that they've done and they love them unconditionally and some of them have never had that before."

Culpepper said that he has seen a difference his experience with the dog has brought him.

"I did not know I could do these things with the dog but I can it’s amazing and I never knew I could interact with dogs like I have," Culpepper said. "I can et back out there and work and support my family and yes, absolutely, I've got to get me a dog now." 

The TAILS program through JSO has been helping inmates and dogs for 3 years. This is the 16th graduating class.

Last year alone, Pit Sisters placed 200 shelter dogs into the program and got them adopted out.

Remo has officially been adopted as of Tuesday, but there are two other dogs graduating the program that need a home.

Individuals interested in supporting the Pit Sisters program can find additional information at PitSisters.org.

There is research that shows animal-inmate intervention programs can have positive effects for inmates and the dogs.

A study by UNF shows with the TAILS program in particular, inmates are avoiding fighting because they want to remain in the program. It motivates them to find other ways to cope with conflict. The dogs require the inmate to develop patience, tolerance, and self-examination. Participants find the dogs help them cope with their lives, pasts, and emotions.

The study shows programs like TAILS can reduced the tendency for inmates to re-offend. It gives inmates like Culpepper the confidence that he can make it on the outside and do what’s right.

About the Author:

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.