A few four-legged “inmates” have been serving time at a Yankton prison.
Four dogs from Heartland Humane Society in Yankton previously lived in the Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Yankton as part of the Federal Inmate Dog Obedience (FIDO) program.
The FIDO program, which began in January 2017, places dogs from Heartland in the FPC to live there full-time for an eight-week period.
“They spend roughly 22 hours next to their handlers,” said Kerry Hacecky, executive director at Heartland. “Besides meals, these inmates are always with these dogs. Even in their sleeping quarters.”
Dogs live with their handlers in a designated housing unit. They’re assigned two to three inmate handlers that care for the dogs 24 hours a day.
Handlers document their dog’s daily activities: their feeding, training and downtime schedules. They’re also responsible for monitoring and recording their furry companion’s weight, behavior, health and hygiene, as well as any medication regime a dog may have.
After an inmate dog handler completes a 4,000-hour animal trainer apprenticeship, they’ll receive a certificate through the South Dakota Department of Labor.
“It is very common to see the dog handlers and their dogs socializing with other inmates,” said Eric Henning, public information officer of the FPC, in an email. “Inmates report that the presence and companionship of the dogs helps alleviate some of the stress associated with the separation between them and their families.”
Since the program began, 10 dogs have been successfully trained by the inmates and placed for adoption through Heartland.
The program focuses on unruly dogs the staff at Heartland have a hard time handling.
“Most of our dogs stay here less than 21 days, and these dogs that we’re using in the program are dogs that would have been here six to 12 months before we found a family willing to take those challenges on,” Hacecky said.
Janette Kaddatz, animal specialist and adoption staff member at Heartland, said the training makes the dogs more adoptable, fixes behavior issues and teaches them basic manners.
Kaddatz visits the FPC a couple times a month to show inmates what skills to teach. She said she eventually hopes to go every week.
“You can’t expect a dog to learn just this thing in a week and then not know anything else for the rest of the time, so it’s kind of adjusting how we’re going to show them what to do and when to do it,” Kaddatz said.
The initial idea for the program came when Heartland transferred dogs to a similar program in Sioux Falls and saw positive results.
Hacecky said Heartland requested the idea of this program to the FPC to three prior wardens with no success. However, an employee of the FPC brought the program idea to the current warden, who agreed to begin the program.
In order to place the first dog in the program, there had to be a “policies and procedures” manual in place, safety concerns addressed and background checks done on Heartland employees.
“It was, for our staff, definitely a cultural shock to see how much paperwork and time it would take to bring a dog to a federal prison camp,” Hacecky said.
Kaddatz chooses which dogs will enter the program and Heartland provides the FPC with supplies needed for the training. The FPC chooses which inmates will be allowed to handle the dogs.
“It gives them (the inmates) something to focus on and to know that they’re helping this dog find its future home,” Kaddatz said.