The Washington County Jail has some new, four-legged volunteers.
The jail in Stillwater launched a new therapy dog program last week, and hopes having dogs around will "enhance the emotional wellness" of inmates and employees, the Washington County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.
Dogs are known to help reduce tension, calm anxiety and reduce anger, making inmates less likely to act out, the sheriff's office said.
“Our goal is to have inmates leave our facility better off mentally, physical and spiritually than when they came in," Sheriff Dan Starry said in a statement.
Many of the inmates will eventually be released from jail, and Starry said he wants to help them transition into successful members of society, adding: "We believe creating this connection of caring helps. It's the right thing to do."
The sheriff's office noted the dogs will also spend time with kids who are visiting their parents in prison, and that this could help strengthen their bond.
Dogs are from Home for Life
The program was implemented with the help of Wisconsin-based Home for Life, which rescues animals that can't be adopted and trains many of them to work with people.
Home for Life will bring dogs to the Washington County Jail at least two times a month, at no cost to the sheriff's office.
Inmates will be able to meet with the dogs on a voluntary basis and get the chance to learn about the dog's history. Many of the animals have survived emotional and physical trauma, which is something many inmates can relate to, the sheriff's office said.
The dogs will help workers, too
Law enforcement employees deal with a lot of tension and face traumatic events during their careers, so these therapy dogs could also help correctional officers, dispatchers, and sheriff's deputies.
The sheriff's office said therapy dogs can help reduce work-related stress, make the work environment more positive, and create a sense of well-being between coworkers.
Therapy dog programs for inmates in Minnesota
It's pretty common for prisons to have therapy dog programs (there are a bunch of different types – read about them here), but the Washington County Sheriff's Office said it's rare for therapy dogs to visit jails because inmates are only there for seven days or less, on average.
Several Minnesota Department of Corrections facilities have teamed up with animal rescue groups on dog programs. The groups place rescued, homeless dogs in foster care with pairs of inmates while the dogs await adoption.
The dogs live with the inmates 24/7, and the inmates are responsible for caring for the pooch before they're adopted.