'Death Row Dogs' at Muhlenberg County Prison Hits Milestone with Inmates Training 1,000 Canines

May 2, 2018

A Kentucky program to train shelter dogs so they have a chance to be adopted has reached a milestone.  Inmates at a Muhlenberg County prison have trained 1,000 canines in a project called 'Death Row Dogs.'

In a bright sunny room at Green River Correctional Complex, 12 dogs are sitting beside their trainers. It’s week 11 of a 12-week program called 'Death Row Dogs.'

Allen Hearld says the lab mix named Snookie is the sixth dog he’s trained.  


"When they come in, like when she come in, she was scared of everything and everybody. She wouldn’t sit here when she first come in like she is now," says Hearld. "I mean she’s still skittish, but she’s doing great. So I think it’s a good program for the dogs."

Hearld says the program is also good for him.

"It’s teaching me responsibility again. Teaching me how to be a decent person. How to interact with people and interact with the dogs," says Hearld. "Just from where I was, I wasn’t a good person when I was out there, so it’s just trying to rehabilitate me to be a good person and go back into society."

The dogs are also preparing to go back into society. Regina Bowers is one of the managers of the Death Row Dogs program at this state prison in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. She says the name is not as tragic as it sounds.

"No, actually it’s a great thing when they come here because a lot of our dogs come from kill shelters and they are not in kill shelters when they leave here," says Bowers. "So they are actually getting a good second chance."  

This prison does not house Death Row inmates, but some are serving life sentences. Bowers says the Death Row Dogs program has been going on for 14 years.

"We have one trainer that has been through the first and I think he’s at 48 or 49 dogs," says Bowers. "We have our one-thousandth dog in this class."  

Bowers manages the Death Row Dogs program with Jim Yates, a corrections unit administrator. Yates says many of the trainers are serving fairly long sentences.

"That gives them something to occupy their time a little bit more," says Yates. "We do have a lot of our trainers that are here for life sentences."

He says inmates have to apply to become a trainer.

"Not everyone is cut out to train dogs. You have to have a certain temperament." (What do you think that is? What do you sort of look for as far as characteristics?) "I look for somebody who’s on the calm side. Somebody who’s not very agitated easily, who can control their own behavior so that can control the dog’s behaviors."

Death Row Dogs is a collaboration among the Green River Correctional Complex, Muhlenberg County and Logan County humane societies, and a group that provides foster care for dogs in private homes called Saving Paws Animal Rescue of Kentucky, or SPARKY.   

Yates says the training has an excellent success record.

"Most of our dogs, 90 to 95 percent of them are adopted," says Yates.

Timothy Cruz served 21 years in the Army before he began serving time. He’s been training a female lab mix named Rain.

"Yeah, she’s my fourth one, first pup," says Cruz..

Cruz says the dogs are with the trainers 24/7.

"I have to take care of the dog, it’s a big responsibility and I take that with heart, you know," says Cruz.

Timothy Mackey is a trainer who says he gets a lot in return for the effort he puts into working with the dogs.

"To me it’s kind of therapeutic," says Mackey. "I’m missing my family or this or that, it kinda takes the focus off that."

Mackey has been training a dog named Ace.

"I’ve had dogs my whole life, off and on," says Mackey. (How many dogs have you trained?) "I think this is 12 or 13."  (That’s a lot of dogs. Do you have a favorite?) "There’s a couple that stood out that I got more bonded to, but they’ve all been my favorite. I love ‘em all."

When these canines graduate, some of the trainers will meet with the adoptive family to show them voice commands and hand signals the dogs have learned to obey. Then the trainers will prepare to meet a dozen new dogs that will soon arrive to spend three months at Green River Correctional Complex.