Dogs graduate to life on the outside

Close-custody inmates saw their first canine success stories culminate with a ceremony Friday.

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Washington State Penitentiary inmates Charles Trosky, left, Jack Ves and Steve Mullins wait with Brownie, left, and Freddy, during a graduation ceremony Friday to mark the first group of dogs trained by close-custody inmates at the prison. (Jan. 7, 2011)

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Shakira and her primary trainer, Antwonn Washington, prepare to graduate from the first dog-training program involving close-custody inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary. (Jan. 7, 2011)

WALLA WALLA -- Six Washington State Penitentiary inmates said goodbye to three companions Friday, sending them into the outside world with hopes of them finding better lives.

But the trio headed for release Friday were a unique group. They were the first batch of dogs trained for adoption by close-custody inmates at the prison.

Although a dog-training program has been in operation at the penitentiary since August 2009, until now it had only involved medium-security inmates. That changed in November when the program was introduced to a select group of close-custody inmates who volunteered to train three dogs from the Blue Mountain Humane Society shelter.

The six inmates, Shane Carlson, Charles Trosky, Jack Ves, Steve Mullins, Charles Nettlebeck and Antwonn Washington, lived and worked with the dogs, Shakira, Freddy and Brownie, to teach them basic commands, such as "sit," "stay," "come," "fetch" and "lay down." The group was under the direction of local animal trainer Shirley Scott.

Sara Archer, BMHS executive director, said the training program makes the dogs much more adoptable, and also gives inmates a chance to learn how to train dogs and enjoy their companionship. Of the 816 animals adopted out by the society last year, 31 were dogs that had gone through the prison program, she said.

Washington, who was the primary trainer for Shakira, said the dog's companionship had not only helped him battle depression, but also taught him the "unconditional love" that both animals and people can share.

"We say we train the dogs, but really it's the dogs that are training us," he said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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