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Second Chances for Both Rescued Dogs and Prison Inmates
1/28/2014 12:50:31 PM

Orangeburg, SC - Both rescued dogs and prison inmates are receiving second chances through a special program called Healing Species. Background on Healing Species: Founded in 1999 by Orangeburg, S.C. attorney Cheri Brown Thompson, the idea for the program first resulted during her studies while in law school. In doing school related research, Thompson discovered that nearly 99% of convicted violent offenders were abused as children and then repeated that abuse to others -mostly animals- while the offenders were still children themselves. She found that the offender would repeat behavior familiar to them because it made them feel a sense of relief and powerful.

The relationship between previous abuse; animal cruelty, and perpetuated human violence led to the founding principle of Healing Species, which is to touch and help heal the human heart of a child through empathy, an emotion missing in many violent offenders. Cheri Thompson gave up practicing law to create Healing Species, the only violence and crime prevention school-based program which addresses issues of the heart. The Healing Species Violence Prevention program is an anti-bullying and character education program for at-risk children and published on the prestigious National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices by SAMSHA. Formal published studies have shown drastic improvement in student behavior and academics for those who received the program.

Dogs rescued from abuse and neglect is a central component of the Healing Species message that what happens to you is not what defines you. The dogs help build a bridge between a student's need for love and the ability to give love through gentle touch and voice. The program employs animal-assisted healing in prevention and intervention for children and humane education as a cutting-edge character and anti-bullying education program. Healing Species, which is a 501c3 non-profit organization, also maintains a Sanctuary facility for rescued dogs and depends entirely on donations.

Inception of the Prison Program of Healing Species: In 2012, Michael McCall, now the Deputy Director for Programs and Services for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, was then the warden at Perry Correctional Institution in Pelzer, S.C.. McCall learned about Healing Species and sought out Ms. Thompson to see if there might be a possibility for pairing up her rescued dogs with prison inmates. The idea was to have the "unadoptable" dogs move into a special "character" unit at Perry CI. Today, hand-picked inmates receive special training from Healing Species on how to become dog care-givers. The dogs live inside with the inmates behind prison walls while being trained and prepared for eventual adoption to permanent homes.

The program at Perry CI has since been replicated at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville and is scheduled to begin at Trenton Correctional Institution in February. SCDC states expansion of the successes of the Healing Species Prison Program is a logical progression, and subsequently, other prisons have requested the program across the state.

"A hardened heart can be softened by the unconditional love rescued dogs provide," stated Thompson. "As inmates give and receive love from these dogs, a reversal of the effects of wounded lives and choices, anti-social behavior and social apathy gives way to mature and meaningful expressions of compassion, responsibility, selflessness, trust, and empathy for others." SCDC officials report that participating inmates have shown marked improvement in their behavior, a reduction of aggression, violence, stress and mental and physical anxiety within the participating living units. "Many inmates say that being a part of Healing Species has given them the gift of unconditional love for the first time in their lives." said McCall. "With over 90% of our inmates returning to society, programs like this offer hope that behaviors can be corrected and the incarceration time of these inmates can truly be life changing - in a good way!"

Healing Species has reached over 25,000 school students since the violence prevention education program began thirteen years ago. Well over 450 dogs have been placed into loving homes from Healing Species' fairly new Woodlands Rescue and Adoption Sanctuary. Since making a connection with the Department of Corrections in 2013, some 14 inames and 12 dogs between Perry and Lee Correctional Institutions have worked together. Dog handlers and dogs have circulated among other housing units at the institutions bringing wagging tails and healing conversations to countless inmates. The ultimate goal for participating dogs is to become "adoptable" and find their forever homes, something that has happened for several dogs so far. As for how the program is affecting the inmates, as one inmate put it simply, "These dogs have healed me."

To learn more about the Healing Species Prison Program or sponsoring or adopting a dog, you may contact Marie Milhouse at Healing Species, 803-535-6543 or online at [email protected] or visit To learn more about the South Carolina Department of Corrections, you may contact Peggy Yobs by calling 803-896-1235 or online at [email protected]

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