OPELIKA, Ala. — Opelika and Lily are two yellow Labrador Retrievers part of the Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University, which breeds and trains dogs to use their powerful sense of smell to keep people safe. After a year of training, the dogs are placed in government agencies or private security firms to sniff out bombs or narcotics.
As part of their training, these dogs spend about half of that year in a state prison with inmates who have earned the right to work with them. They help the dogs hone their detection skills and reinforce basic socialization.
The dogs are mostly Labradors, since it is a breed chosen for its sociability and physical resilience. After the prison, they are more mentally mature. “They have more stamina and endurance,” says Jeanne Brock, a chief instructor at Auburn.
By most estimates, dogs have 40 times as many olfactory receptors as humans do — 220 million versus five million. Even if 95 to 98 percent of their receptors are degraded, a sharp sense of smell remains intact.
The program is also highly beneficial for the inmates. At Coffee Correctional Facility in Nicholls, Ga., men serve up to 25 year sentences. Grady Perry, a former warden, says he is tremendously proud of the Auburn partnership, crediting it with improving inmates’ morale and behavior.
“The incident rate in that unit is almost nonexistent,” he said. “That dog program just kind of calms everyone.”
Xiomara Gonzales-Govea, general producer of the Univision Radio Network pet show Animales360˚, also explored programs between dogs and inmates when she visited a couple of prisons in Florida.
She found that inmates react positively to the dogs. Reinaldo Ramos, a prisoner at the Department of Corrections in Florida, has been behind bars for 14 years for a sentence for four charges of sexual abuse. He frequently complains about being lonely. To overcome this, he works on training dogs. He has already trained 10 dogs and Dino is his most recent student.
“He was really crazy when they gave him to me. I said to him, ‘I love you because you’re going to do something important for someone,'” says Ramos.
Watch the full report below.