Wisconsin inmates get paired with dogs for training
By AUSTIN MONTGOMERY
May. 14, 2018
JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — "You can't be in a bad mood when he flops on your feet. He's calming and it wears off on everyone in our unit."
That's what Beloit resident Robert Goodwin, 37, said as he looked down at Apollo, a Wheaten Terrier. Apollo has three legs, but you wouldn't guess it with the energy he has.
You also wouldn't probably guess that Apollo was in the Rock County Jail's Canine Good Citizens program that pairs inmates with training instructors to help some not-so-good-dogs get ready for adoption.
The Beloit Daily News reports that the program is in its fourth year at the jail, and command staff said the program has seen 20 dogs come through the facility on their path to finding forever homes. Dogs spend varying amounts of time in the program, from weeks to months depending on the animal, officials said.
Goodwin, who was convicted of drug related offenses in 2016, serves as one of the four primary handlers with dogs brought by the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. Also helping is Madison resident Skyler "Johnny" Goldsmith, 26.
Supervisor Jason O'Connor and Sgt. Jay Williams oversee new dogs coming from the humane society to work with the program's four handlers on a revolving basis. Even dog-shy inmates in E block and staff at the jail - including corrections officer Erin Wilson, who adopted Apollo — saw how special the dog was.
"Apollo was so great," Goodwin said. "For these conditions where there are so many people and everyone has an attitude for themselves. He did outstanding. He didn't have any aggression. I think he took the aggression (away) from everybody else."
"I knew I wanted to adopt him after my first security check," Wilson said. "There was an instant connection."
Goodwin and Goldsmith come from different backgrounds but both share time on the jail's RECAP program.
Goodwin is a soft spoken man, slightly grizzled by years of working in the elements as a roofer and is also a survivor of multiple drug overdoses.
Goldsmith is a self-proclaimed nomad of sorts, having traveled cross country by freight train in addition to being a street musician. He was convicted in May 2017 for the battery of man in Madison. He was released from custody on April 18, but remains on probation following a RECAP graduation ceremony with other graduates Brandon Moon, Charity Neal and Lesuave Sanders.
All were able to address other inmates, visitors and instructors during the graduation ceremony.
"Ladies, gentlemen: May the force be with you," Goldsmith joked.
Goldsmith will enter a temporary living placement program in Madison for 60 days. After probation, Goldsmith says he's back on the road, heading for New Orleans and then on to Washington.
Goldsmith said the jail's canine training program helped him make it through a trying stay in Rock County.
"It gives the inmates who don't have any kids on the outside (a way) to learn a sense of responsibility," Goldsmith said. "It helps out in a lot of ways and it's all about rehabilitation."
Both Goodwin and Goldsmith are now drug free and say they intend to stay that way.
Goodwin said taking responsibility for his actions helped put his life in perspective.
"When I first came in, I wanted to blame others," Goodwin said. "Like it wasn't my fault or like what I did was minimal. But I mean, I take responsibility for it now. It's easier now ... I am happy being sober. It's been an ongoing thing. Sobriety is hard. Just because I am leaving here doesn't mean I'm done."
Goldsmith said a speaker during the RECAP classes resonated with him, specifically when hearing about how they "aged out" from having a junkie's lifestyle.
"That's a very real thing," Goldsmith said. "I am too old for this and I am only 26. My body is wrecked as it is."
Although some people might question why inmates should be allowed access to the Canine Good Citizens program, Goodwin said they should approach the situation with an open mind.
"We are helping the humane society," Goodwin said. "They let us serve as handlers, but really all the inmates in the program help out. You get every kind of person you could possibly be around."
Tom Livick, lead volunteer of the Canine Corrections Academy, said all inmates he's worked with have been willing to help.
Livick has decades of experience in training dogs. He found the jail's program and hasn't looked back, helping out twice a week.
"Everyone has been absolutely respectful," Livick said. "They're attentive and do what they're asked to do. Most people, even these guys, love dogs. Their hearts just melt."
Williams said the program has helped improve morale among inmates.
"I was skeptical for what it was actually going to do," Williams said. "(But) once the dogs started coming in, it totally proved me wrong."
The jail's five-month RECAP program covers a range of courses, from anger management to alcohol and drug addiction treatment, basic career literacy and technology skills.
O'Connor, who oversees the jail's community service operations, said there is a high degree of patience involved when dealing with the canine program - and the inmates.
"When we don't have a dog in the program, there can be some more behavioral issues," he said.
Dogs are selected after humane society staff work with O'Connor and Williams to find a good fit for the program.
Matching dogs have to handle living with nearly 30 inmates and be able to deal with a range of noises in the jail.
Information from: Beloit Daily News, http://www.beloitdailynews.com