Former Inmate Finds Her Path To Freedom By Teaching Rescue Dogs How To Find Hope

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 5, 2016

I love this story so much – maybe it’s the underdog theme, or possibly the bit about second chances. Either way, I feel grateful to have been a few planks in the bridge to making some super cool stuff happen. Let me explain…

A few months ago I received an email from my friend Leona in Brownwood, TX. I’d call her a “rescue friend,” because we’ve never met, but we’ve done a lot of really important things together for dogs. She works for Ag Mart, a mega pet store out in the country. Aside from all of her volunteer work with the local shelter, she’s involved with The Texas Juvenile Justice Department and their PAWS program.


The PAWS program pairs select TJJD youth with canine partners for a minimum of 12 weeks. The dogs, which come from local animal shelters, learn basic commands, improved socialization skills, and earn a Canine Good Citizen Certification. This certification is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior. The kids learn responsibility and benefit from the companionship.

One day, Leona told me about Mimi. She is 18 years old and has been in the PAWS program at Ron Jackson Juvenile Correctional Facility for over 2 years. She has successfully trained several dogs for their Canine Good Citizen. Due to her good behavior, she is able to leave the facility and work at Leona’s store — mostly grooming dogs, but also helps her with inventory. Apparently, everyone has thoroughly enjoyed working with her. She is a sweet girl and a very hard worker and has really touched everyone at the store.


Leona said:

You know I am not a “kid” person but to see what these dogs do for these girls is amazing. We both know what a bond we get from our dogs and how important that unconditional love is. Usually, for the girl, it is the first time they get any sort of love without having to do something for it. And the best part is in the past 5 years of this program, over 120 dogs have been adopted out and close to 60 girls have graduated from it and none of those girls have re-entered the prison system!

Leona also told me she believed the bridge between Mimi and success will be her ability to find a job. She asked me to make a few calls to see if I could help find Mimi a position at a grooming or dog boarding and training facility. I absolutely made those calls and Mimi’s interview with one of my favorite dog trainers, Matt at The Texas Dogfather, was set for the 8th of February. Now it was all up to her.


As you probably already guessed, she was a great match and got to work right away! I had a chance to visit with Mimi at her new job. We spoke about her time in prison and with regards to the PAWS Program, she had this to say:

The best part was knowing that I helped give a second chance to dogs who could have otherwise been put down.


The purpose of our TJJD program was to teach empathy. They taught us about the concept in class, but it wasn’t until I truly experienced empathy with the rescue dogs that I really GOT it.


I have avoided my feelings most of my life. So when each PAWS dog would graduate and leave, I would get really sad and not know how to handle it. It forced me to learn how to deal with those emotions in a healthier way. The dogs really helped me with that. I didn’t have to have a wall up or be on guard when I was around them.


I learned problem solving skills and how to be resourceful so I could help shape the dogs’ behavior. Seeing all the results, even after a grooming session, really meant a lot to me.


The dogs often had trust issues when they first came in. I watched how they reacted to new things. But their resilience really inspired me. I could totally relate to this because we moved around a lot when I was younger. I was always the new girl at school, so trusting never came easy to me.


When I zoomed out and looked at the entire point of view, I realized they had to have gone through something hard. Slowly, they became more understanding and less fearful. And I guess, I did too.


Working with dogs has changed my life.


Matt, Mimi’s employer:

Mimi is a very intuitive person. Our guidelines are clear at the ranch — we leave all our drama at the gate and communicate extremely well within the team so the dogs can have stability and routine. She has established great relationships with each staff member already and has taken ownership of a few tasks, for example bathing the dogs.


Everyone here is on their second or third chance. Maybe not from prison, but we are all recovering in some way from mistakes of the past. Paying it forward to dogs is how we heal ourselves, so in that sense Mimi has found a family here at The Texas Dogfather. She naturally fits in with the team because we all PUT DOGS FIRST.


By the way, while incarcerated, Mimi graduated from high school and completed a few college courses. She also adopted the last PAWS dog that she trained. Her name is Skye.


Welcome to our not-so-little club Mimi. We wish you all the best that a life filled with loving dogs has to offer!


If you would like to see the PAWS dogs available for adoption, please visit their Adoption Page here.

All images ©Robyn Arouty. Visit her on facebook here.

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

March 5, 2016

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A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.