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The Pawsitive Change Program: Changing Lives

This is a guest post by Eleanor Brison. Eleanor is part of the IPittyTheBull foundation and a trainer with Humble K9. She spends one day a week working with inmates at North Kern State Prison, a medium security prison located in Kern County, California.

I was an admirer of the Marley’s Mutts Pawsitive Change program well before I was brought in as an assistant trainer. Pawsitive Change is a progressive and intensive rehabilitation program which matches death row dogs with inmates inside California State Prisons.

The goal is to reduce inmate recidivism by providing them a viable skill, while at the same time saving dog’s lives.  My Mondays are spent driving three hours to North Kern prison where the Pawsitive Change program takes place in two different yards. I partake in the program at “M” yard but have also participated in a few classes at the “A” yard program as well. It’s amazing to see what this program has accomplished in such a short amount of time!

The “A” yard program has been around longer than the “M” yard program which is only in its second round. I was blown away by the energy and capabilities of the men in the “A” yard program and I can’t wait to see “M” yard become this way as the men go through more rounds. There are men in “A” yard who ask questions beyond what we teach them because they’re eager to learn more about dog psychology. They listen to what the trainers are saying and they really take it all in, carrying on questions from the week before, trying to do best for their dogs.

They have plans to work with dogs and to rescue when they are released. Some have even told me they want to start their own business. They all put a smile on my face with their thirst for knowledge, good humor, and friendliness. Being a young woman, I had people tell me to “be safe” and asked me if I was nervous about joining the program, but the men that I work with at North Kern are some of the most pleasant people I know. I look forward to Mondays so much that a six hour, round trip drive means nothing to me. It’s insignificant. 

The first round at “M” yard had a dog named Ashley who spent quite a bit of time with her tail tucked. Although, her team did such an amazing job with helping her open up. It was a beautiful thing to see the change in her as she wasn’t the same dog as she was when she walked in. The guys really connected with their dogs. So much, that some of their families adopted a few of the dogs and one even got to stay with his handler until he was released. You could always find Dallas trotting faithfully behind Rob. The dogs bring out a different side in these men. Even men that aren’t in the program say hi to all the dogs with a nice smile on their face. These dogs bring a lighter energy into North Kern and everyone is better because of it. 

Ashley showing off her new friends

     At “M” yard I am an assistant trainer and learning from Lia Marques and Lisa Porter who I admire very much. The Pawsitive Change program has provided me with many great trainers to look up to and it is filled with strong women. As someone who can be a bit more shy and reserved in front of crowds, it’s inspiring to watch these women teach class. They are calm, confident, and they know their stuff. They encourage me and they guide me when I need it, which I am very thankful for. The men in the program are equally encouraging, knowing how hard it is for me to speak up at times. However, as I get more familiar with everyone it becomes easier to teach part of the class and I am grateful for the opportunity to grow as a person.

With “M” yard only being in its second round, I think some of the guys are still settling in to the program. Luckily, they have help from some of the men who participated in the first round of the program. I love to watch them help each other while explaining what they’re doing to work with the dog and guiding the rest of their group through it. It’s great to see guys who may not normally interact with each other and communicate so much end up becoming good teammates. 

These men really benefit from slowing themselves down and checking in to see how they’re feeling, what they’re doing with their dog, and what they want from their dog. Some of their homework involves reflection on themselves and it’s touching to read what they have to say about themselves, their actions, and their lives.

The trainers and guys in the program have made Mondays my favorite day of the week and I truly believe that it is equally fulfilling for the trainers as it is for the men in the program. I am both elated and honored to be part of Pawsitive Change. 

All photos courtesy of Marley’s Mutt’s Pawsitive Change.

To learn more about Eleanor and all the dogs she’s helping, visit her Instagram page.