Inmates and Dogs: A Life-changing Bond at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre

A program has been recently introduced at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, which is aimed at enhancing inmate morale as well as preparing rescue dogs for adoption.

The OPSEU Local 708, a union that represents staff at the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre, has launched a new program called Canine Connections.

In collaboration with a local animal rescue group, the program brings rescue dogs to the facility for training and obedience lessons. According to Shawn Bradshaw, the president of OPSEU Local 708, this program is believed to be the first of its kind in Ontario.

At present, a total of four carefully selected inmates are working with four fostered dogs as part of the program. The inmates are tasked with training the dogs to follow commands, ignore distractions, and walk on a leash properly.

On Monday, in an interview, Bradshaw explained that the program involves teaching the high-energy dogs how to focus on their commands and behave in an organized manner.

The program is set to run for eight weeks, with the inmates undergoing two weeks of orientation before being matched with a dog. Bradshaw noted that inmates are selected based on their charges and behavior while serving their sentence.

According to Shawn Bradshaw, the participating inmates are selected based on their behavior while in prison and the nature of their convictions. He said that usually, preference is given to inmates who opt for work assignments within the facility as a way to reward their good behavior. Bradshaw further added that working with the dogs is a positive experience that motivates the inmates to behave accordingly and earn the privilege of training and taking care of the dogs.

He said that the impact on inmate volunteers has been positive as “they appear to enjoy it,” and other inmates who are observing the training are expressing interest in taking part as well.

He suggested that the program helps to brighten the day of the inmate volunteers and also helps them to develop compassion and patience.

Bradshaw emphasized that the program aims to prevent negative behavior by keeping the inmates engaged in positive activities. He believes that giving them something productive to focus on will encourage them to display positive behavior in the institution, and that the skills they acquire through the program will be useful to them once they are released. Bradshaw also mentioned that the program employs a certified dog trainer, and the inmates can learn valuable skills from them.

The Canine Connections program at Thunder Bay Correctional Centre is currently in its fourth week and officials hope to see it continue and expand. The program aims to partner with community agencies to allow inmates to give back to their communities and promote positive behavior within the institution. Bradshaw, has expressed his desire for a long-term run of the program.

Canine Connections has been well received by both the inmates and staff, according to a statement from the Ministry of the Solicitor General provided to TBnewswatch. The program has created an overall positive environment for everyone involved, with both staff and inmates expressing their appreciation for it.

He also stated that the Canine Connections is expected to help participating inmates develop various skills, such as patience, discipline, and empathy. 

While the majority of programs for Ontario inmates are provided through trained ministry program officers, probation and parole officers, rehabilitation officers, and clinical staff, third-party organizations and volunteers also play a role in facilitating programs and services.

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