BCSO Animals Services Paws & Stripes College A Life-Changing Program
By Space Coast Daily // June 19, 2015
positive change for man and beast alike
A win-win situation is a sweet deal. A win-win-win-win-win-win situation is a chance of a lifetime.
Brevard County Sheriff’s Office’s Paws & Stripes College does indeed provide positive change for a lifetime for man and beast alike, and saves lives, to boot.
Let’s look at the wins in the program:
• Win Number One: the College will annually save the lives of 40 homeless dogs.
• Win Number Two: the college trains dogs to be well-behaved family pets or hard-working therapy animals.
• Win Number Three: individuals with issues such as PTSD and epilepsy will receive a dog to help them at no cost.
• Win Number Four: prison inmates learn responsible behavior and receive job training opportunities.
• Win Number Five: college students gain valuable on-the-job experience.
Last, but not least, is Win Number Six: when 40 dogs find homes, kennel space at the shelters opens up for another 40.
Jail Inmates and Shelter Dogs Team Up
Paws & Stripes, in existence for several years, has enjoyed a complete revamping after the Sheriff’s Office took over the administration of the county’s Animal Services and its two shelters.
The program has been renamed Paws & Stripes College to better define its new and broader scope.
A partnership between the Sheriff’s Office, Eastern Florida State College, the SPCA of Brevard and the Brevard Humane Society, Paws & Stripes College pairs two groups – jail inmates and shelter dogs – in a training project that helps both dog and human.
Brevard County Sheriff – and dog lover – Wayne Ivey expects the program to both help many shelter dogs find forever homes, as well as to reduce the recidivism rate in the female inmate population. The program success lies in the varied groups that make up its whole.
“As far as I know, we’re the only sheriff’s department to partner with a college and animal shelters in this type of program,” said Ivey.
Carefully screened female inmates will be chosen for the program, which is expected to launch in late June from headquarters at the former Florida Department of Corrections work camp complex in Sharpes.
“We’re completely renovating the building with kennels and a vet area to make the environment highly conducive to the training of the dogs,” said Ivey.
The heart of Paws & Stripes is loving, forgiving…and furry. The dogs are the true stars, as canine Cinderellas that have been delivered from a sad fate into a future brimming with promise.
They may have been previously repeatedly passed over by prospective adopters perusing the available shelter animals because they may have been too rambunctious or too shy, or perhaps, as in the case with pit bulls, they looked too fierce, even though they are in truth love muffins waiting for someone to love them as much as they love the world.
That is about to end after they enroll in the Paws & Stripes College.
Clara Mutter Heads Training Team
In their genetics may be a Heinz 57 collection of different breeds, but the dogs chosen for Paws & Stripes College share one thing in common: they all need a forever home and they’re willing to work for it.
“We take the unadoptable and make them adoptable,” said Clara Mutter, who heads the training team at the College.
Mutter, along with husband Bobby, has been involved in professional dog training for more than three decades. Ivey coaxed Mutter out of retirement with the exciting new program.
“I just couldn’t say no,” she said.
The animals are trained to sail through the Canine Good Citizen Test, which they take at the end of their training period.
After graduation from this doggie college, these very well-behaved pooches should have no problem attracting a family who wants to welcome them into their fold.
Who wouldn’t want a dog that is housebroken and will sit, stay, heel, lie down and come to their owners when called?
Specialty Dog Training
Beyond these companion canines, Paws & Stripes College will train “specialty” dogs to work as helpers for humans suffering from epilepsy or to assist members of the military who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
A few select pooches, such as fuzzy Murphy, are headed into a career with the Sheriff’s Office, serving the department by defusing interviews with children who have been victims of abuse.
“We’re the only agency in the country to use a dog to help the child feel more at ease while we’re talking with him,” said Ivey.
“The dog is able to immediately develop a rapport with the child and help make him feel more at ease. The child is more likely to open up and talk when the dog is there.”
A few select members of the Paws & Stripes College dogs will be employed by pest control agencies as “bug dogs,” trained to detect destructive insects such as termites and bed bugs. They will also help pay for the expenses incurred by the other students and the College.
“We’ll be giving away most of the dogs to families, veterans or agencies, but the bug dogs will be sold and the money will be funneled back into the Paws & Stripes College,” said Ivey.
Each dog, big or little, will be selected based on its strengths and potential.
“We’re going to help them build on what they do best,” said Mutter.
The “basic” program runs eight-weeks, during which the inmates are in charge of teaching their canine partners to be responsive to voice commands and hand signals.
Eastern Florida Vet Tech Provides Experience
The program is also partnering with Eastern Florida State College to provide real-world experience for students in the college’s vet tech program. In return, the newbie technicians help the dogs stay in tip-top shape.
For the female inmates who participate in the Paws & Stripes College, the program represents an opportunity to repair battered self-esteem while learning skills that could land them a job.
Mutter and her team will teach them techniques in dog training, general pet grooming and veterinary assistant skills.
Participants will complete a Pet First Aid and CPR course and receive the opportunity to acquire Level 1 Certification from the International Boarding and Pet Care Services Association, a credential that could land them a nice job after their jail sentence is over.
“For the inmates, it’s an all-day training schedule,” said Mutter.
“They come to work in the morning, let the dogs rest at lunch and then they go back for more work in the afternoon. These inmates put their souls into it and it pays off, because many of them get jobs with boarding kennels and veterinary offices.”
The inmates and the dogs seem to have a natural affinity for each other.
“They are depending on each other to get them through a difficult time in their lives,” said Ivey.
The benefits of Paws & Stripes reach well beyond finding homeless dogs forever homes.
For the inmates, the program is a way out of repeat jail time. According to Sheriff’s Office data, the recidivism rate for the general inmate population is 37 percent, which means that more than a third of released inmates will break the law and end back in jail within a year of their release.
With inmates engaged in Paws & Stripes training, however, the rate plummets down to 14 percent.
“There are significant advantages, said Ivey. “This is a life-changing program.”