Cook County 'Tails' program offers redemption for inmates, dogs
Thursday, November 22, 2018
by Charles Keeshan and Susan Sarkauskas
Tails of Redemption graduate Cookie proved so smart and trainable, the Cook County sheriff's office is going to teach her to be a drug-detecting canine officer. Courtesy of the Cook County Sheriff's Office
Cookie was a troubled girl.
Her large size, mixed background and bad manners made it unlikely anyone was going to adopt her.
That was until she and five other unwanted youngsters joined an innovative Cook County program launched earlier this year to help those in Cookie's circumstances. Now, she's well on her way to becoming a law enforcement officer.
Did we mention Cookie is a dog?
She's one of the first five graduates of the Tails of Redemption program, run by the Cook County sheriff's office and Chicago Animal Care and Control.
The eight-week program pairs bad-mannered shelter dogs with Cook County jail detainees. The detainees work alongside the dogs to provide training, with the goal of making them suitable for adoption.
Cookie proved to be so smart and trainable, the sheriff's office decided to train her as a drug-detection dog.
And two of the other dogs -- Bitsy and Dutch -- ended up finding their "fur-ever" homes with sheriff's personnel.
"It is such an incredible program, when you think these dogs were unadoptable," said Cara Smith, the sheriff's chief policy officer. "I could not believe the transformation in these dogs."
All five had some pit bull in their genes, Smith said. They also are larger dogs, which generally aren't as attractive for adoption, according to shelter officials.
But they responded to training with the jail detainees so quickly that they could have been adopted a few weeks earlier than expected, Smith said.
When the program started, Sheriff Tom Dart said he hoped detainees in the Chicago jail would realize, after changing the future for the dogs, that they "have the power to change their own future as well."
A well-behaved Dutch, with his trainer, at a ceremony marking Dutch's graduation from the Tails of Redemption program in the Cook County jail. - Courtesy of the Cook County Sheriff's Office
The dogs stayed all day with their trainers, sleeping in crates in their cells in the Division 9 maximum-security facility near 31st Street and California Avenue. There they had a small, fenced-in outdoors area for training and a library in a common area with books and videos about dogs.
None of the detainees selected for the program have been charged with rape, murder or crimes involving animals, officials point out.
"The animals are teaching the detainees as much as they are teaching the animals," Smith said. And jail staff members enjoyed participating in a positive program in surroundings that otherwise can be depressing, she added.
A new session will begin in about a week, and officials plan to increase it to eight dogs and eight detainees.
If you want to support the program, the animal shelter is asking for donations of supplies, including dog food, waste-disposal bags, pooper-scoopers and crates. Its full wish list is at amazon.com.