RYAN TOWNSHIP — SCI Frackville has some four-legged friends as inmates as part of a new program. Since last April, the prison has rotated hosting five dogs through a local dog adoption program called D.A.W.G.S, which stands for Dogs Achieving Wellness and Good Structure.
“It’s a calming effect on the jail,” said one inmate named Jonathan. He is currently training his tenth dog through the program. “We’ll do 15-20 training sessions a day because there is not much else for me to do in here. To me, it’s not about just saving the dogs. They’re getting a second chance like we’re getting a second chance. We are redeemable. This is maybe something we could do when we get out as well.”
The dogs learn basic obedience, along with a variety of different commands over the course of several weeks of staying at the prison. The dogs even have their own bed inside their handler’s cell.
Amy and Steve Eckert run D.A.W.G.S., which takes dogs from overpopulated high-kill shelters in Tennessee and Florida and brings them to Pennsylvania.
“Dogs are coming in here super thin and don’t know how to walk on a leash, or had been previously abused,” said Amy Eckert. “We bring them here and in a few days, [they’re] putting on weight and they’re happy and they’re healthy and they’re doing great!”
“The dogs don’t judge anything,” Steve Eckert added. “They’re looking for love, guidance, and companionship. That’s it!”
A lot of the dogs will be adopted out into the community before they’re even done with their month-long training. And some of the dogs getting adopted out aren’t going very far from the prison.
“It brings a smile to the staff’s faces as well,” said Lt. Jason Albert. “You could be having a bad day, and maybe 5-10 with a dog could brighten your day up and relieve some of the stress you’re not going to take home that day.”
Jason Albert and Stacy Dowd adopted Rudy through the program. Both of them work at the prison, along with several others who ended up adopting.
“They come home with you and they’re trained in basic commands and they’re house broken and kennel trained,” added corrections officer John Schmerfeld.
“It feels right and it’s a win-win for everybody,” added Kathy Brittain, the superintendent of the prison. “You get to give these dogs a second chance. These inmates feel like they can get a second chance. Staff morale improves. It makes everybody feels good.”
To learn more about the program and how to adopt a dog, click here or call 570-944-WOOF.