Caitlin UltimoPet Parenting / Pet Stories

Prisoners Partner with an Animal Shelter to Train Rescue Dogs

Animal Shelter and Prisoners Work Together to Train Rescue Dogs

It takes a village to save a dog. In the case of the rescue dogs saved  by Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan, it takes a village, a large number of volunteers and the help of inmates.

What It’s All About

Refurbished Pets is a unique animal shelter training program that pairs rescue dogs taken from a high-kill animal shelter with inmates at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan. The RPSM Correctional Companion Program vets dogs to ensure that they have the right temperament and are adoptable before moving them to the correctional facility. There, they are paired with specially trained inmates who, over a 10-week period, will care for and train the rescue dogs until the animals are ready to go to their forever homes.

Christina Oswald adopted Moe, a 30 pound, 3-year old Terrier mix from Refurbished Pets in September 2017.

“I have actually been following the program for years, after stumbling across them through Petfinder when helping my parents adopt a new dog,” says Oswald. “I loved the mission of RPSM—what a great use of inmate time—and I can only imagine the satisfaction of helping these dogs become more adoptable.”

While adopting from RPSM did not work out for Oswald’s parents, she knew that’s where she wanted to go when she was ready to adopt.

“I was lucky that of the 10 or so dogs in Moe’s graduating class, I was interested in three of them,” Oswald says. She gave the organization the chance to pick one of those dogs for her. “The dogs were about 1-2 weeks into their time behind bars when I was approved.”

Moe’s Story

Oswald doesn’t know much about Moe’s background, except that he had issues with “marking”—something that he still struggles with today.

“But he knows it’s wrong and does it very infrequently,” Oswald says. “I did not press to know much more and didn’t want to pass judgment, but it’s hard to believe that anyone would give up this sweet dog.”

working dog

Photo courtesy of Christina Oswald

Moe lived in the prison 24/7 for 10 weeks while being trained. During that time, Oswald—who had not met Moe in person yet—received weekly updates that included notes on Moe’s behavior with people, his interaction with other dogs in the program, the types of toys he preferred playing with, the tricks he was learning, when and what he was eating and his bathroom schedule.

“Moe was even lucky enough to get to meet one of the inmate’s family in the visiting room, so we knew he was great with kids,” Oswald says. “We really felt like we knew him before he even came home.”

working dog

Photo courtesy of Christina Oswald

In addition to teaching the dogs all the basic commands, the program also allows potential adopters to request certain things from the trainer.

“I requested to train Moe to behave while jogging on a leash,” Oswald says. “They were very accommodating, even asking me the pace I typically run at and how frequently so he would be on the same schedule as me. Moe has since become a great running companion.”

A Forever Home for Moe

The 10-week wait was nerve-racking, but Oswald says it gave the family time to dog-proof the house and gather all the necessary dog supplies.

Then Oswald met Moe in person for the first time—on the day he graduated. 

“I met his foster mom, who had him prior to entering the program, and another member from RPSM at a Tractor Supply Plus in the town outside the prison,” says Oswald. “They were very clear that there was no pressure, and if for some reason, I met him and it was not a fit, that I could walk away.”

But it was love at first sight for Oswald, and that was it.

working dog

Photo courtesy of Christina Oswald

At first, Moe had separation anxiety, transitioning from being around people 24/7 in prison to living in a house where he is left alone for periods of time.

“He was a crate escape artist at first, but would not do anything bad when he escaped,” says Oswald. “We have transitioned to allowing him to roam the main floor so he can look out the window; this has seemed to satisfy his curiosity, and he has gotten used to our schedules.”

Today, Moe is a happy and cuddly boy who loves everyone (human or canine) he meets. “Except for Santa; he was not a fan,” says Oswald.



Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.  

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