Thu, Jan 22, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Activists urge ministry to adopt ‘cell dog program’

HELPING OUT A few years ago, volunteer veterinarians from National Pingtung University began treating stray dogs and then sending them to the Hsinchu City Jail

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Animal activists and their dogs wait at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday to urge the expansion of the cell dog program, under which prisoners are taught how to give dogs obedience training. As well as improving the dogs’ prospects for adoption, the program is said to improve prisoners’ behavior and reduce recidivism.

PHOTO: CNA

Animal activists yesterday called on the Ministry of Justice to help push the cell dog program — in which inmates are taught to train stray dogs so that the dogs can be prepared for adoption — saying that the program has proven successful abroad and significantly lowers re-offending rates.

“In the cell dog program, inmates are taught to be professional dog trainers and teach stray dogs basic obedience,” Taiwan Cell Dogs Program founder Cathy Tai (戴昌儀) said.

Not only do the stray dogs get a second chance at life, since with the training they have a better chance of being adopted instead of being put down, Tai said, “Inmates in turn have love and compassion reintroduced into their lives, because, as most stray dogs have been abandoned or mistreated, the inmates have to exert extra patience and love to reach out to the dogs.”

Tai, a music teacher at Taipei’s Jinou Girls High school, said that she first learned about cell dogs three years ago from a TV program on Animal Planet, which featured 11 US prisons running the program.

“The cell dog program was invented by Sister Pauline Queens in 1981 and has been running in US prisons for more than two decades. Statistics show that they reduce recidivism by 60 percent,” Tai said.

In the cells, inmates involved in the program also demonstrate better behavior and less violence than those who aren’t, she said.

The program is now helping rehabilitate inmates in all 50 states of the US, Italy, the UK, Japan, Korea and many other countries, she said, adding. “In the US, some of the dogs have even been trained to be guide dogs.”

In Taiwan, volunteer veterinarians from National Pingtung University of Science and Technology began treating stray dogs three years ago. They then sent the dogs to Hsinchu City Jail for inmates to train, Tai said.

A total of 18 dogs have been adopted so far, Tai said, and hundreds of people are now on the prison’s waiting list for dogs.

“This is a social program that benefits society as a whole. In addition to the benefits to the strays and inmates, people can reap the benefits of improved public safety,” she said.

However, Tai said that currently Hsinchu is the only jail out of the nation’s 23 jails to have adopted the program, adding that it faces obstacles because “most prison wardens feel that it is extra work for them.”

As such, Tai called on the Ministry of Justice to back the program by making it eligible for part of the prison wardens’ annual job performance review, adding that it could also be a part of inmates’ parole evaluations.

“Meanwhile, my group of volunteers will continue to fundraise for the cause so that this program can carry on long-term,” she said.

To learn more about cell dogs, visit the program’s bilingual Web site at www.celldog.tw.

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