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Moving toward a Pawsitive Change with inmates training dogs

CORCORAN — Positive change is what some of the prisoners in California State Prison Corcoran are looking for after partnering with nonprofit organization Marley Mutts Dog Rescue.

Marley Mutts is based in Kern County and helps rescue, rehabilitate, train and re-home dogs from Kern County’s high-kill animal shelters and matches the dogs with inmates inside California State Prisons through its Pawsitive Change program.

Founder and executive director Zach Skow started the organization by wanting to rescue as many dogs as he could from high-kill animal shelters and began the Pawsitive Change Program.

“I always like to think of it as these rescue dogs are rescuing people,” said Skow. “The whole nature of our program is to help these men become more emotionally honest and learn to talk about what they are experiencing.”

Most of these dogs are rescues from Kern County but some are brought from China, Thailand and Korea. Both the inmates and the dogs learn skills gained in this program that help them better their lives.

Prisoners in the program learn about dog training from the organization and then train the rescue dogs that stay with them for 14 weeks at the prison.

“Corcoran has representatives from almost every gang, it’s a high-incident volatile institution,” said Skow. “It’s kind of become legendary – too many problems, too many incidents – but we’ve been able to get the men involved in the dog program.”

About three to four Pawsitive trainers go into Corcoran prison every Wednesday to train the inmates to become certified dog trainers. Each class is about two hours long and the training lasts for a total of 14 weeks.

Pawsitive Change program coordinator Kristina Whitmore is in charge of facilitating with the dog trainers, inmates and prison guards to make sure the dogs are being fed and taken care of during their 14 week stay inside.

“The [inmates] are learning cognitive emotional skills. They are learning to be self-aware, work together as a team,” said Whitmore. “After the program is done, the dogs get adopted and go with their adopted families. The inmates …receive certificates.”

There are two rounds of 14-week trainings during the year. On Tuesday, Corcoran inmates will hold a graduation ceremony to celebrate the ending of their training and the dogs will go to their adoptive families.

The program started at a prison in California City and now includes Wasco and North Kern along with Corcoran. Whitmore says the program has been a success so far. However, they do need donations to keep the program running.

 “…we are in need of funding and donations,” said Whitmore.

It costs about $16,000 for the 14-week trainings or about $60,000 a year for the program to meet all the costs in the four prisons.

What the community wants for downtown

HANFORD — The residents of Hanford all have different opinions on what they would like to see for downtown Hanford, so Main Street Hanford conducted a survey to gather the community’s thoughts.

“Downtown isn’t for the five board members; it’s for the entire community,” said Steve Banister, president of Main Street Hanford’s board of directors.

Shelly Johnson, executive director of Main Street Hanford, said the organization put on the survey in conjunction with the national Main Street America organization. She said the survey was put out on Facebook and received about 270 responses.

Johnson said she was not surprised by many of the responses, though some were still hard to hear.

When asked what three words they most commonly associate with downtown Hanford, those surveyed responded with words like “historic,” “quaint,” “fun” and “beautiful;” but they also used words like “old,” “boring” and “sad.”

The most common word people used, and the one that made Johnson cringe, was “empty.” Vacancies have been one of the bigger issues downtown has continually faced.

According to the residents of Hanford, what they want are a better variety of businesses, more outside dining areas, entertainment, nightlife and better business hours.

Besides work, Johnson said the three things that brought most people to the downtown area were food, service businesses and special events.

Johnson said people answered that they like to shop after 5 p.m. and mostly on Saturdays, when they don’t have work.

“It just reemphasized some of the things that I had already determined from talking to people,” Johnson said.

But because downtown encompasses various businesses, Johnson said it’s difficult to get an organized set of hours of operation for each business, or to get all the businesses to stay open later on certain days.

It’s an issue she will continue to work on.

Johnson said she was happy to see over 50 percent of those surveyed had shopped in downtown within the last seven days. In fact, she said this surprised her the most and it made her feel good about the progress of downtown.

Going forward, Johnson said it’s Main Street’s goal to form concrete strategies that will transform downtown in the long run.

“We’re finding that if we really want to make a change, it’s going to take some time,” Michelle Brown, Main Street Hanford’s office manager, said. “There’s not a quick fix. We need transformative strategies with long-lasting results.”

One of the strategies will be focusing on the arts and entertainment.

There was a dichotomy in the results, with requests for both family-friendly entertainment and night life entertainment for the adults in their 30s and 40s, Johnson said.

Banister’s ideas include gastropubs and restaurants with outside dining areas where people can relax and enjoy themselves.

Banister also said Main Street now has to figure out how to show potential businesses that Main Street will be there and be focused on encouraging the long-term success of the businesses.

One of the ways Main Street Hanford is revolutionizing downtown is with the distrx app, which they recently joined.

The app was designed specifically for Main Street districts to allow businesses to reach mobile consumers, giving users a direct link to downtown’s businesses, events and activities.

As visitors enter the district, they receive a welcome greeting on their mobile device, which lists area businesses by category with photos and links to call, get directions and go to their social media sites.

As visitors enter a participating business, they receive a personalized greeting, which may include special offers, discounts and promotions.

Brown said the app is doing very well. Hanford has 34 businesses participating, and 500 people downloaded it in the first month, she said.

Even better is that surrounding cities like Visalia, Tulare and Fresno are adopting it, so users can use the app in other places they visit outside of Hanford.

“We can all have more exposure to our neighboring communities, so I think that’s exciting,” Brown said.

As always, Main Street Hanford will host events like Thursday Night Marketplace, which Johnson said has grown over the years. Main Street Hanford encourages the community to give feedback on what they would like to see.

“We’re really excited about the great things that are happening downtown,” Johnson said. “Stay tuned.”

Two dead, four in critical condition from crash

HANFORD — Two pickups crashed in the early morning hours Thursday in Hanford, leaving two dead and four others injured, according to police.

A press release from the Hanford Police Department said officers arrived on scene near the area of Grangeville Boulevard and 9 ¼ Avenue to find three men who sustained major injuries. The men had been ejected from a Dodge pickup that was on fire with two women still inside.

Police said citizens tried to pull the victims out of the truck, but were unable to get to them because of the fire.

Officers then located another victim inside a Toyota pickup, who had also sustained major injuries.

The accident happened around 1 a.m. Thursday when the northbound Dodge pickup and eastbound Toyota pickup collided at the intersection, police said.

Police said crews from the Hanford Fire Department arrived on scene to put the truck fire out and assisted with the medical treatment of those injured in the accident. The victims were taken to hospitals in Fresno or Visalia.

Lt. Greg Freiner with Hanford Police said the identities and ages of the two women who died have not been determined and will not be released, pending notification of relatives.

Freiner said the men injured are in critical condition and unable to speak with investigators at this time.

Freiner said drugs or alcohol are suspected to have played a role in the accident, but the Hanford Police Department will continue to investigate.