There’s just something about dogs that speaks to my soul.

The Secret Life Of Pets / Via giphy.com

They provide endless amounts of cuddling and emotional support, while all they ask for in return is endless food and attention.
It’s a win win.

@redandhowling / Via giphy.com

And in California, thanks to Marley’s Mutts Pawsitive Change Prison Program, certain prisons are allowing at risk rescue dogs inside to provide rehabilitation and emotional support to incarcerated men.

Zach Skow, Co-Founder of Marley’s Mutts & Founder of Pawsitive Change Program, told BuzzFeed “Our program exists to give hope and opportunity to the most vulnerable people and pets within our society.”

The goal of the program is to prepare both humans and canines for a test called Canine Good Citizen Certification, which is extremely difficult to pass for dogs without the help of continuous training!

For 14 weeks approximately 8-10 dogs are partnered with 24-30 inmates to continuously work on improving each other’s social, mental, and even vocational metrics, in the form of homework and personal goals.

Courtesy of Zach Skow / Via Instagram: @pawsitivechangeprogram

The partnership is between Marleys Mutts and California state prisons.

The curriculum helps participants understand emotions from both the canine and human perspective, and how to process emotions that may arise while in the program.

Cheryl Lynn photography

Heres a detailed look at the program metrics.


Some of the goals for inmates are to increase self-esteem, engage in team settings-positively, understand how canine interaction can be applied to interacting with those inside and outside of prison, and so much more.

For dogs, some metrics include learning how to handle behaviors with other dogs, decreasing feelings of insecurity, successfully completing the Canine Good Citizen Certification and more!

Cheryl Lynn photography / Via instagram.com

Read more about the exact guidelines and program cores here!

Zach said “We knew the program would be beneficial in so many ways, but we did not foresee so many of our students graduating, being released from prison, and entering the pet industry work force. It’s incredible!”

“The pet industry is a $70 billion juggernaut which was essentially built on second chances and is ready to accept formerly incarcerated into its ranks.”

Zach went on to say “Our program focuses on the most vulnerable inmates, usually violent offenders who are serving terms of 8+ years…often repeat offenders who have been locked up since they were children.”

“Our students have rehabilitated some of the most challenging dogs we have ever rescued. Death row dogs, literally being rehabbed by men serving life in prison.”

Zach’s journey to starting his advocacy for inmates and dogs started 12 years ago when he found out that he had been diagnosed with end stage liver disease and given less than 90 days to live

“After being admitted to the comprehensive transplant center, I was sent home to accrue six months sobriety which would make me eligible for transplant.”

Courtesy of Zach Skow

“When I was released from the transplant program and sent home, all I could think about was taking my life. There were no more drugs, no more alcohol and I had no idea how to live in my own head. I was completely obsessed with the idea of taking my own life and trying to figure out how to do so without further harming my father.”

Zach stated that the only things that gave him love and saved his life, were his rescued dogs.

The idea behind starting the Pawsitive Change Program came from a friend named Robbie, who was released from prison after spending 13 years inside, since he was around 17/18 years old. Zach said, he was not ready for “life on the outside; he could easily become a recidivism statistic.”

This experience showed Zach that the connection between human and dog, especially while being incarcerated, could work wonders on both an emotional and mental level.

“Even though we had an incredible program and were offering to pay for the program ourselves, no jail or prison would accept us. They simply did not care about programming.”

But in 2015, luck came by in the form of an invitation from Cal City Correctional, where they would start their very first Pawsitive Exchange Program.

“The number one issue for returning citizens is a support group and a career. In other words, access to hope and opportunity, and that is exactly what we give them.”

“With proper support, our program could be scaled nationwide to help give a fresh start to countless shelter dogs and formerly incarcerated men, women and children.”

Since the program takes place on the yard of the housing unit, it is said to affect the entire prison population on a positive note!

In terms of success stories, Zach concluded “Daniel Robinson was released from prison three years ago after serving 13 years. He was incarcerated as a child and facing life.He is now an accomplished dog trainer who works with us regularly.”

“Jamal, Oscar, Troy, Kool (photo below), Vo, Isaac and others have proven that men of color have a place in this economy!”

And at a time when our entire world is going through so much, Zach noted that our whole world is slowly refocusing its attention on the disenfranchised.

For James, who is now released, he explains (in the video below) that being a Pawsitive Trainer has helped him understand the importance of patience.

Oscar say’s (in the video below) that the program gave him a sense of community, which was something he felt was missing prior to the program.

Pawsitive Change Program is currently located, or will soon be operated at,

Cal City Correctional Facility, North Kern State Prison- (2 programs, max and min yards), Wasco State Prison, Tehachapi CCI, Norco and Bakersfield Juvenile Justice (the only girls prison rescue dog program in America).

And while the curriculum may not mention this, yes, there is a lot of hugging that goes around!

And kisses too!

Now I will leave you with this photo and a few links that you should check out to support this amazing program 🙂

See ya later! 🙂

British Science Association / giphy.com


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