Program pairs dogs with Men's Central Jail inmates


The Custody Canine Program is a first-of-its-kind program in the jail that teaches inmates how to train dogs.

"It has taught me patience," said inmate John Buchholz. "When they come in, some of them have really bad tempers and some of them don't really have any skills. When we train them, we're one-on-one with them. It helps us to interact with them, teach them new skills and see them progress. We teach them to sit, to come, to wait, to heel."

The program began in August 2012. The dogs literally live with the inmates during the 3- to 5-week training period.

"I've done bad things in my life and I'm here in jail, but it's good that I can actually take care of something other than myself," said inmate Caesar Cunanan.

Rick Belmonte, a dog behaviorist, teaches inmates how to train the dogs.

"We have two dogs in a dorm with 36 people, 18 inmates are responsible for each dog, and they all have a job," Belmonte said. "Every half hour, someone has a job and the dog is being worked all day."

Sheriff officials say inmates in the program are less likely to cause trouble in the jail.

"It has been done in prisons before, but it's new and unique to L.A. County jails. In fact, it's so successful that we are looking at possibly expanding it to one or more of our seven jails in the near future," said Sgt. Ray Harley of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Some inmates say they feel like they are getting a lot more out of the training than the dogs. Members of the program say they have so far helped save the lives of eight dogs that have been successfully trained and adopted by loving families.

"When Rick told us these dogs are basically on death row and it was their last chance, they were going to be euthanized, and he rescued them and brought them to us and we were able to rehabilitate them. This is the fourth set of dogs I have worked with and all of them went to happy homes," Buchholz said.

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