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WALLA WALLA — A metal dog bone hangs from Fox's collar.

Crude engraving on the tag identifies the Australian shepherd mix as DOC #000005. He was incarcerated on 8-17-09 and, if he maintains a good disciplinary record and completes the recommended training, he will be paroled from the Washington State Penitentiary on 10-25-09.

Fox's time behind bars may be short, but those 10 weeks hold a lot of promise for the 4-year-old dog and his primary handler, inmate Wayne Hawk. Fox is learning how to behave once placed in his adoptive home and Hawk is getting lessons in responsibility and compassion.

Fox is one of six shelter dogs to participate in the inaugural canine training program at the Walla Walla prison. Each dog could have faced euthanization, but now is paired with two offenders to be trained in basic obedience and socialization before it is released.

The prison dog project was started in 1981 by Sister Pauline Quinn at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor. The program quickly went national, and in December 2008 the nonprofit organization PAWfect CONnections was formed to bring the training to male facilities within the Washington Department of Corrections.

Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen is in its second session of dog training, and Walla Walla officials say people already are lining up to adopt dogs from the facility's next class.

Hawk, locked up for murder out of Yakima County, said when at his job in the Walla Walla prison, he can hardly wait "to get back to my baby."

Halfway into the program, a bond has been forged between the two as Fox enjoys curling up in Hawk's lap during down time in their cell. And when left in someone else's "house" while Hawk is away, Fox will cry for his trainer.

"He is just an absolute fantastic little dog," Hawk said of Fox, who has been adopted by a man who uses a wheelchair.

The dogs in prison program is funded by donations, not state dollars. The prison had a $1,000 initial investment, which came out of the facility's operating funds and went toward prep work.

Washington State Penitentiary Superintendent Stephen Sinclair said it was critical to get this programming, which is a reflection of the times.

The prison has "decades of history that's not too great," but having offenders train dogs that weren't considered adoptable can influence their behavior without costing the taxpayers a nickel, he said.

Prison officials hope the program will not only reduce violence or overall negative behavior in the offender population, but also benefit society.

"They're paying back the community because these dogs otherwise wouldn't have a rosy future …," Sinclair said. "This is a pretty exciting thing for us."

Inmate Gus Turner said he and "cellie" Dean Royer put together the proposal with unit supervisor Sandi Jacobson. The program allows the offenders to give a second chance to abandoned or unwanted dogs, he said.

"We took enough and now it's time to give," said Turner, sentenced in 1982 for a Clark County murder.

Turner and Royer — in prison on his third strike for assault and burglary — are training Sadee, a 6-month-old border collie mix. The men are also putting their craftsmanship to use by making leashes, collars and harnesses and selling them to raise money for the dogs in prison program.

Turner said their mission with the dogs is "to make them ready to go out in the world, make them parolable."

But the program has also "changed the way people talk to each other, the way guards and prisoners relate to one another and the way races relate to one another. It's really made a difference," he said.

The dogs from the Blue Mountain Humane Society are placed in the prison for eight to 12 weeks.

Their trainers and the alternates are medium-custody offenders who are pre-screened by the facility to make sure they've remained infraction-free for a minimum six months, and demonstrate positive behavior.

Prison spokeswoman Shari Hall said they selected offenders they knew would not place the dogs in any danger. And now the men are serving as role models for younger offenders coming into the institution.

Animal communicator and dog trainer Shirley Scott volunteers to work with the men as they teach the dogs basic commands: Sit, stay, come, fetch, lay down, shake hands and "leave it" when given a treat but ordered to wait. The goal is for the dogs to meet the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizens standards by graduation.

The offenders and their dogs have three times a day to run loose in the prison's big yard, then get a more focused training session in a smaller yard. The dogs room with the offenders in their cells.

Scott said the offenders were guarded in their first week of training, but now have learned to open up and work together. She credits that to the healing nature of dogs and the inmates' desire to see the program succeed.

"I love it. It's very rewarding to know that we're doing something to get animals good homes and offenders somewhat looking forward to their day," Scott said. "There's a big change in these men. It's just been awesome to see the change."

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The trainers must keep a journal of the dog's progression, any likes or dislikes and suitable discipline. A person or family can make a depo-sit on a dog, which will be delivered with all its shots, spayed or neu-tered, microchipped and trained.

Adoptees are said to pay an extra $50 to $75 for the pet, but the money goes toward the program's operation. PAWfect CONnections supplies the food, grooming supplies, toys and other needs while the dog is in prison, then gives a 30-minute training session for the adoptee.

Buck, a 9-month-old German shepherd mix, missed a week of training after a lump was discovered on his back. It was surgically removed and he was returned Tuesday to his trainers.

Only Buck and Kaili, a Rottweiler/German shepherd mix, have yet to be adopted out of the first class. However, Kaili's trainer Darnell Crawford is hopeful he can keep his 1-year-old pup.

Crawford was a "lifer" until he was recently re-sentenced in Pierce County on his robbery and assault case. Now he anticipates being released in about 45 days.

The training has been a challenge for Kaili — one of the more stubborn dogs — but she has come a long way after being picked up on the street, Crawford said. He considers it a blessing to be chosen for the program and is thankful to corrections organizers and volunteers for making it happen behind prison walls.

"It's occupying a lot of my time. It keeps me more in tune with what's going on with the dog instead of everything else going on in the prison that is really negative," Crawford said.

Billy Martin is in prison for life on a murder conviction, but the time he's invested in George will pay off when his wife and daughter adopt the 21/2-year-old Basset hound.

George is one of the favorite dogs in the prison, with regular daily visits from other inmates.

"It's so nice to give back to the community. It's not too often you're able to do something constructive and give back to the community," said Martin, who's been locked up for 27 years. "He's really been a great, happy time in my life."

People who want to volunteer with fundraising and collecting supplies can call 509-526-6479 or e-mail lyobbagy-finn@doc1.wa.gov

More information about the nonprofit organization is at pawfectconnections.shutterfly.com

Monetary donations via a check or money order can be sent to WSP PAWfect CONnections, Accounting Office, 1313 N. 13th, Walla Walla, WA 99362.

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