A Doggone Good Celebration: Shelter Dogs Graduate Cook County Jail Training Program

Jul 18, 2019

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A recent graduation at Cook County Jail in Chicago featured no caps, no gowns, not even balloons. But NPR's Cheryl Corley was there, and as she reports, it was a doggone good celebration - for shelter dogs. Get it? Dogs that are now trained and no longer at risk of being euthanized.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Corrections officers in their blue uniforms and folks from Chicago Animal Care and Control filled the seats of an auditorium in the basement of Division 9, the jail's maximum-security area. The graduates - four brown and white pit bulls - Ziggy (ph), Landon (ph), Thin Mints (ph) and Zest (ph), stood ready for their big moment along with their trainers, detainees dressed in their brown jail T-shirts and pants.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: There's our third group graduating today.

(APPLAUSE)

CORLEY: This was the combination of the Tails of Redemption training program where Cook County detainees teach shelter dogs basic obedience skills. Here at the ceremony, the trainers put the dogs through their paces.

LACEDRIC BANKS: Now this here is the heel - it keeps them close to you would be sit. No. Come here.

(SOUNDBITE OF FINGERS SNAPPING)

BANKS: Sit.

CORLEY: Trainer LaCedric Banks (ph), a 41-year-old from Houston, has been in jail for 17 months on an unlawful use of weapons charge. He says he loves all types of animals. His dog, Ziggy, and the others have been difficult to adopt at the shelter, and that's why they're in the program. Banks says Ziggy was challenging at first.

BANKS: With this one here, I wouldn't know how to address the issue with a aggressive dog when I'm training versus a dog that's a little bit more timid or not as aggressive as this one here was.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Up. Come here. And here's your treat.

CORLEY: Tails of Redemption, based on a similar program in Nashville, got its start in Chicago late last year. And for this third class, there's definitely an admiring crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: She is so gorgeous, so gorgeous.

CORLEY: It's a love fest, with people ooh-ing (ph) and ah-ing (ph) over 1-year-old Zest. It quiets down as all the dogs - Zest, Ziggy, Landon and Thin Mints - wait with their trainers for their names to be called.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Mr. Banks with Ziggy, please come forward.

CORLEY: Cameras flash. Banks gets a certificate. Ziggy, excited, jumps up to get a few pets before the sheriff places a checkered collar and a star badge around his neck.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I think Ziggy's found a new owner.

BANKS: Yeah, right.

(LAUGHTER)

CORLEY: Each of the dogs are put up for adoption - all from the two previous classes are in homes. Tails of Redemption is popular. There's more detainees looking to take part than there are dogs to go around. Trainer LaCedric Banks says there's a good reason why.

BANKS: This here is helping us as well as helping the dogs. It's stopping them from getting killed, and it's helping us to be a better person.

CORLEY: And Banks says he's just waiting now for the next group of dogs that will come in for their second chance.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.