GFNJ's Prison Foster Program at Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility
Please click on the text 05 Greyhounds to view the vidoe from the 2011 Animal Hall of Fame for GFNJ's Prison Foster Program
05 Greyhounds from Tightvideo on Vimeo
Links to FIOS1 GFNJ Videos
From the 2007 Fall NJ Home Stretch Newsletter
Greyhound Friends of New Jersey, working with the New Jersey Department of Corrections, is celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of the Foster Program at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale, New Jersey. This program provides both rehabilitative benefits for incarcerated youth and needed socialization and obedience training for rescued greyhounds. The only program of its kind in New Jersey for men, the youth correctional program matches greyhounds that are finished with their racing careers with incarcerated young men between the ages of 18 and 26. Under supervision, the young inmates act as fosters to the dogs for a period of six to eight weeks, providing them with socialization and obedience training. At the end of the foster session, the dogs are awarded the American Kennel Clubs Canine Good Citizenship Award, which designates them as ready for adoption.
In the process of fostering the greyhounds, the young men learn to care for and be responsible for another living creature often for the first time in their lives. They learn how to train dogs in weekly classes with a trainer and receive lectures on animal-related topics from guest speakers. The inmates keep daily journals about the dogs progress and personality, which helps the young men improve their communication skills and provides useful information on the dogs to adopters.
Response has been universally positive and success is evident in both the young men and dogs. There is a waiting list of young men hoping to participate in the program, and this program offers a chance to greyhounds that would not be accepted by other adoption groups. Evaluations of the prison inmates who have participated in the program reveal young men who have matured, as they demonstrate responsibility for, and kindness toward, each dog that they foster. Personal confidence grows as each dog succeeds. The cottage where the program is housed has better behaved inmates as the dogs have a calming affect on their foster inmates, non-participating inmates and guards. One young man wrote in his journal that he has learned to control his temper and has modified his behavior since participating in the program. He wrote that he knows that being part of this program is a privilege and that getting into trouble or making the wrong decisions will mean losing his greyhound.
Greyhound Friends of New Jersey, working with the New Jersey Department of Corrections, has trained and adopted 250 greyhounds to date.
Prison Program Fifth Anniversary
Five years ago this May Greyhound Friends of NJ began a partnership with Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility to help greyhounds learn a new way of life. This prison program bridges the gap between a greyhounds track career and its retirement into a forever home.
Currently the Mountainview program consists of seven primary handlers, seven back up handlers, and several trainees. We house seven greyhounds at one time and replace dogs as others are adopted into permanent homes. The dogs live in the cell with their assigned inmate so they adjust to being alone from the start. The first week is a bonding experience between the dog and the inmate. Training begins in week two. Basic commands, including heel, come, stay and down, are taught over the remaining stay. The inmates groom, clip nails, brush teeth, clean ears and administer medication. The greyhounds are taught to go up and down stairs. All this is accomplished in order to transition the greyhound into becoming a loving and loyal companion. Greyhound Friends of NJ trained these inmates and monitors the progress of each dog. This allows us to match the greyhound with the proper home.
A fair number of broken leg dogs have recovered from surgery in the prison program. These dogs require extra care and their stay in the prison is longer. Since these dogs are leash walked on the grounds the broken leg dogs get the appropriate exercise that is required for this type of injury.
A greyhounds track life consists of a kennel of racers and a few employees caring for their basic needs. The relationship that develops with the inmate is sometimes the first intimate one the greyhound has ever experienced. The inmates spend so much time with their dogs the bond becomes very strong. These inmates are very dedicated and committed to the welfare of these greyhounds and their only reward is to know the dog has been placed with a loving family. We encourage prison adopters to send notes and photos of their greyhounds which will be taken to the prison on our weekly visits. These gestures mean everything to these men who have given so much of their time to assist these wonderful animals in becoming great pets.
To date we have graduated 141 greyhounds from Mountainview with the hope this important and beneficial program can continue to prosper in years to come. It has been a learning and rewarding time for both Greyhound Friends of NJ and all the Moutainview inmates who have been lucky enough to be a part of this experience.
Greyhounds in prison program help inmates 'rescue' themselves
By Vera Lawlor, Contributing Writer
ANNANDALE When Maria Lutz adopted Bucky, a retired racing Greyhound, and a graduate of the Greyhound Friends of New Jersey Prison Program, he came home with a journal. It was written by the inmate who cared for the dog, tracking their progress together over a six-week period.
"I couldn't even bring myself to read it the first couple of weeks because I know these guys get attached to the dogs," said Lutz, a resident of Monroe Township. When she finally opened the book she found notations such as: I wish I could keep him but I know I can't and I hope you love him as much as I do.
A year later when Lutz and her husband Frank were invited to bring Bucky back to visit the inmate who worked with him at Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale, they jumped at the opportunity. "We spent an hour talking to him and he wanted to know where Bucky slept, what he ate, if he liked going on car rides, and the day to day activities of the dog," Lutz said. "It was very apparent to us that he was moved by the whole experience."
It's been almost two years since the prison program began and to date 86 dogs have graduated most having passed their Canine Good Citizen Tests and now living in permanent homes. The partnership between Greyhound Friends of NJ and the NJ Department of Corrections "has been deemed a success by all involved, from Corrections Commissioner Devon Brown down the line to staff and administrators at Mountainview," said Barbara Wicklund, president and founder of the rescue group. "The prison program started with just three dogs and now we are up to seven but they tell us that's the maximum they can accommodate," Wicklund said.
Dogs are assigned to primary and backup up handlers and typically two or three inmates serve as trainees preparing to take over as handlers when a need arises. Inmates for the Greyhound foster program are chosen based on the recommendations of the corrections officers and following interviews by the facility program coordinator and Wicklund. "We base our choice on how much time they have left, level of maturity, and the reason they are incarcerated," Wicklund said. "I check to make sure there was no animal abuse in their past and if they are in for a violent crime, I question them thoroughly."
Most of the inmates, ages 18 through 26, are serving time for drug related issues, Wicklund said. During the interview process she also asks about their experience with dogs. Most have had Pit Bulls and that initially concerns her because of the link between drugs and dog fighting rings. "I love Pit Bulls they are one of my favorite breeds and I don't want to be anywhere near people who were involved in abusing these dogs," she said. "But these guys don't seem to have connections to that and they are very quick to produce photos of their dogs to share with me."
The program, Wicklund said, provides benefits for both the dogs and the inmates. "In addition to providing the dogs with individual attention and basic obedience training, the program has been especially helpful in rehabilitating some of our broken-legged dogs who require controlled leash walking once they're out of their casts," Wicklund said. "The attention and care given to these special needs dogs as well as all the dogs entering the program has been invaluable."
Because the prison is not a super noisy environment the Greyhounds tend to love it there. "Some of the dogs do get excited when the alarm system goes off because it sounds like the signal at the starter gates on the track but they get used to it after a while," Wicklund said.
The dogs sleep in the cells with inmates and are supplied with their own bedding. All foster families in the Greyhound rescue program are asked to teach the dogs to sleep in their own beds because many potential adopters don't want dogs on their furniture. But, because of the special bond that develops between the inmates and the dogs, that rule is not always easy to enforce. "I've passed the doors and seen the dogs curled up on the cots," Wicklund said. "I don't say anything I know these guys are hungry for affection I hear them talking to the dogs."
Besides providing much-needed companionship the Greyhounds, she said, teach the inmates respect for both human and animal life and in some cases even help them to develop self-control. In one fairly recent journal entry an inmate wrote that he was ready to explode but he knew if he didn't keep his temper he would be kicked out of the dog program.
Since adopting Bucky, the Lutzs have opened their home to two more prison graduates, Sugar Plum and Sleeper, and all three make periodic trips back to visit the inmates. "So many people have said to me, 'I can't believe you go to the prison and I can't believe these guys are allowed to have dogs when they are serving time,'" Lutz said. "I tell them these guys are selected because of their good behavior and they want to give something back to society."
All of these young men, she said, have limited sentences and eventually are going to be paroled. "Statistics show that most of them go right back to lives of crime because they can't connect with society," Lutz said. The dog program, she believes, can turn that around for the inmates who participate in it. "Maybe some of them will come out of there with new goals and look for a job with animals," she said.
A thank you letter from the sister of an inmate who worked with one of her Greyhounds clinched Lutz's belief in the prison foster program. "She told me that due to some bad things happening in his life, he took the wrong road and this was his first time being away from home," Lutz said. "She thanked me for showing him respect and kindness and said if it wasn't for the Greyhound program she doesn't know what would have happened to her brother."
For more information about the Greyhound Friends of New Jersey Prison Program or for information on adopting or fostering a retired racing Greyhound, call Linda Lyman at (732) 356-4370. The rescue group pays for the entire cost of the prison foster program and is always in need of financial donations to help cover the cost of beds, food, medications, training treats, and coats for the dogs. Donations of second hand dog coats in good condition are also accepted. Donations can be sent to Greyhound Friends of N.J., Inc., c/o Linda Lyman, PO Box 4416, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034-4370.
About the Prison Program
Not quite two years into the program, 61 fresh-off-the-track greyhounds have gone into the foster program at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale, NJ. Begun on May 14, 2002, the partnership between Greyhound Friends of NJ and the NJ Department of Corrections has been deemed a success by all involved, from Corrections Commissioner Devon Brown down the line to staff and administrators at Mountainview.
Started with three dogs and six inmates, the program has expanded to seven dogs and a minimum of 14 inmates, with each dog assigned to a primary and a back-up handler. Typically, there are two or three inmates serving as trainees, preparing to step up to handler status when an opening arises. The inmates are selected based on recommendations of the corrections officers and interviews by the facility program coordinator and Barbara Wicklund, president of GFNJ.
In addition to providing the dogs with individual attention and basic obedience training, the program has been especially helpful in rehabilitating some of our broken-legged dogs who require controlled leash walking once they're out of their casts. The attention and care given to these special needs dogs - as well as all the dogs entering the program - has been invaluable.
The most recent addition to the program, instituted at the request of Commissioner Brown, is an hour long class once a week devoted to dog care and dog issues. Speakers are being lined up to address the inmates on such topics as behavior, first aid, humane treatment of all animals, obedience competition and a variety of other subjects.
Adopters who are fortunate enough to get a prison graduate receive a booklet prepared by an inmate describing their obedience training techniques and a journal kept by the inmates for each individual dog. In return, the adopters are urged to provide photos and notes to keep the inmates abreast of the dogs' progress.
Moon and Winston met their new owner while in the Prison Program!
One of the guards got to know them and adopted them when they completed the program.