People looking to adopt a dog from the pound often choose among the friendly tail waggers. Puppies that are shy or disobedient can be left behind. But in San Mateo County, unwanted pups get help from an unlikely source - local inmates.
In 2009 the sheriff's department partnered with the Peninsula Humane Society to found the Transition Animals Into Living Situations (TAILS) program, which pairs problem dogs with inmates at a minimum-security facility. For two months an inmate helps care for a dog, from morning walks to crating at night.
"There are great dogs that have had no formal training," says Lieutenant Alma Zamora, facility commander at the Maple Street Complex. "They don't know basic commands. We correct that behavior. And it's good for the inmates, too. They're learning something, not just sitting here waiting for release."
Salvador Martinez landed at Maple Street after "trying to make some fast cash" and was paired with Belle, a Labrador-Rottweiler mix. "When I first got with Belle, she had issues," Martinez says. "She wouldn't get along with other dogs. I trained her how to heel, how to shake. She responds to her name now."
The Humane Society's Scott Delucchi says San Mateo has been able to make TAILS work because the facility houses nonviolent inmates and has a Humane Society volunteer willing to teach them.
But Orange County is also interested. And the San Francisco County sheriff's office sent an exploratory committee to visit San Mateo's program and is working on logistics.
So far, all of the 40-some dogs that completed TAILS have been adopted, two of them by former inmates.
"The big joke of the program is that it's hard for us to find homes [for dogs] as good as jail," Delucchi says, comparing TAILS to "getting adopted by a couple ... with a huge yard who doesn't have to work."