CONNELL, Wash. - Sometimes saving another life will end up saving your own. Inmates at Coyote Ridge are finding this is true.
The "Ridge Dogs" program started two-years ago with only eleven dogs and a handful of trainers.
Dogs, like Gretchen, learn to obey. She's tiny and wears a sweater. Her handler is a convicted killer. Gretchen is taught obedience skills with the goal of adopting her out one day.
Inmate Daniel Jolliffe says, "The dogs have changed people's lives."
They've changed his life. He's spent more than 20 years behind bars.
Apollo has given him a new purpose, a sense of direction. Skills he hopes to use one day on the outside.
Daniel continues, "It's given me focus, it's given all of us actually focus."
The state provides only a few thousand dollars for "Ridge Dogs."
The program relies mostly on donations. Toys, beds and bowls are gifts. Food is provided by the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter. That's also where the dogs come from.
Inmates earn 35 cents an hour as dog trainers. After paying what they owe to the state, they keep 30 dollars for themselves each month. Most say it's not about the money.
Inmate Allen Root says, "I wouldn't be able to cope with being here without the dogs."
The dogs seem to be just as happy.
Every dog is identified by a colored bandana. Dogs that first enter the program are given an orange bandana, yellow mid way through the process and green like what Polo's wearing indicates they've fully completed the training process and are ready for adoption.
If you think the inmates are sad to see the dogs go, they insist they're not.
Daniel said, "We're seeing the positive part of them, going out to live their life kinda like we look forward to doing."
So far a total of 58 dogs have been fully trained and adopted. Prison officials tell KEPR the Ridge Dogs program is the best incentive in violence reduction that they've ever used at Coyote Ridge.
If you're interested in adopting one of the dogs they're listed on the Ridge Dogs Facebook page.
You will find that link here.