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.

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