The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) recently began the TAILS (Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills) program at one of its juvenile residential commitment programs, the Duval Youth Academy in Jacksonville. The TAILS program began in 2015 as a collaborative effort bringing together prison inmates and hard-to-adopt shelter dogs. This January, three dogs were placed at the Duval Youth Academy to pilot the TAILS program in a juvenile setting.
Under the guidance of the TAILS Program Director Jen Deane, youth selected for the program were taught handling and dog training skills. The boys worked in teams of two with one dog assigned to each team. The dogs lived full-time at the facility for the duration of their training. Twice per week Ms. Deane, who is a certified professional dog trainer, gave instructions to the boys who then worked with the dogs throughout the week. “We’re fighting hate with love,” said TAILS Program Director Jen Deane.
Though carefully assessed for suitability for training and living in a commitment program, the dogs had problems of their own to overcome. The three dogs selected for the pilot were saved from abusive situations, with one of the animals having been locked in an outdoor shed with no food or water for days on end. In April, all three dogs graduated from the program and six young men earned certificates of completion in dog handling and basic dog training. “While this program helps to place dogs in loving homes, the impact it has goes much deeper; it teaches our kids patience and kindness for another living creature”, said DJJ Secretary Christina Daly.
Asked to describe what the TAILS program did for them, one pilot participant said that it saved his life. His dog was his friend and made it possible for him to manage his depression. Another participant said that it made him rethink how he’s been living his life and what impact his choices have had on his family. “We taught each other things that will help us, like confidence, love, compassion, and patience,” said K.T., a dog handler and trainer.
Two of the dogs trained at the Duval Youth Academy have found new homes while the third will await adoption at the rescue facility managed by Ms. Deane.