BRUNSWICK — Coastal Humane Society and Lincoln County Animal Shelter, now joined as one organization, has teamed up with Two Bridges Regional Jail of Wiscasset for a canine training program for shelter dogs.

Inmates of the facility receive instructions on dog training from shelter staff and, over the course of 10 weeks, work with shelter dogs on basic behavior and commands for the purpose of making them more appealing to potential adopters.

The first Beyond the Bars program enrollees, a 4-year-old terrier mix named Melvin and a 2-year-old border collie mix named Jake, graduated on May 23 at the Two Bridges facility.

To prepare for the program, CHS and LCAS staff consulted with two nationally renowned training experts, Thad Lacinak and Angi Millwood, who are co-founders of Precision Behavior Animal Consulting. They observed CHS and LCAS staff handling the dogs, and created a comprehensive plan to incorporate best training practices in each shelter, also making recommendations for how to teach the same methods to prisoners in the Beyond the Bars program.

Mike Gould, a shelter employee and the coordinator of the program, visits the jail weekly to instruct inmates of best practices in training and monitor the dogs’ progress.

The dogs worked primarily with inmates Dustin Campbell and Norman Palmer.

“Dustin and Norman dedicated themselves to this program and have done amazing work with these two dogs,” said Gould.

“They used positive reinforcement clicker training, and throughout the 10 weeks of the program, I saw both Dustin and Norman become more confident in their ability as trainers and dog handlers. They took on a number of extra responsibilities to help the dogs as much as possible, including early wake-ups, medication administration, long walks, play sessions, and training sessions.” he said.

Joe Montisano, executive director of both shelters, approached the jail for a collaboration, with the goal of improving the chances for adoption for larger, harder to place dogs.

“When the dogs learn the basics, such as not jumping up when people approach, walking on a leash, and taking treats gently, they appeal to adopters and stand a much better chance at finding a home sooner,” said Montisano.

“As much as we love our dogs, we want them to spend as little time in the shelter as possible. In this program, dogs are out of the shelter environment and socializing with new people, stimulating their minds and drastically improving their manners. When they return to the shelter for adoption, they’ll be adopted much quicker,” continued Montisano.

Up to six shelter dogs at one time will enroll in the Beyond the Bars program, each with two primary handlers to see to their training in two sessions a day. Inmates live in a dorm-type setting, and are minimum security with no violent offenses. Trainers are handpicked by jail officials from among the inmates who have shown good behavior and who are interested in participating in the program. Dogs roam free in the dorms and common rooms, spending nights in their own special designated doggy room, and also have access to fenced-in yards. 

“The program has been an excellent experience for Two Bridges for both staff and inmates,” said Captain James Bailey of Two Bridges Regional Jail. “We have seen a noticeable difference in the inmates where the dogs live, and the unit is more calm,” he noted.

Jake and Melvin went up for adoption on May 25 at Lincoln County Animal Shelter in Edgecomb, with their diplomas prominently displayed on their kennels – though shelter staff members are confident that the dogs’ stellar behavior will speak for itself, adding “Jake and Melvin will easily charm shelter visitors.”

Inmates Norman Palmer and Dustin Campbell train shelter dogs Jake and Melvin in the Beyond the Bars dog training program.

Graduation Day: From left, Norman Palmer, Mike Gould, and Dustin Campbell with one of the first graduates of the Beyond the Bars program, border collie mix, Jake.

Capt. James Bailey, right, and Sgt. Kyle Canada, left, stand with inmates Norman Palmer and dog Melvinm right, and Dustin Campbell and dog Jake, left, part of the newest program at Two Bridges Regional Jail, to foster and train dogs in basic obedience so they are ready to be adopted by the public.


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