Not many people are aware that the San Quentin Fire Department co-sponsors a dog training program called “Pen Pals of San Quentin” funded exclusively by the Marin Humane Society.
The program houses dogs going through behavioral and physical rehabilitation. Men from the Fire Department must sign-up to become dog handlers. After being screened and accepted, the men are entrusted to care for and train an individual dog. All canines are kept in dog kennels, where there are rules to follow as part of their training.
The dog program at the Fire Department has proven to be a real morale booster, allowing the trainers to grow as human beings by demonstrating concern and genuine affection for the animals. Some of the dogs have been passed from shelter to shelter, and have now, in-effect, been given a second chance at San Quentin. Otherwise, they might have been euthanized.
To date, 215 dogs have been through the program and 46 inmates (firemen from the San Quentin Fire Department) have been their handlers.
The Pen Pals program has six instructors and five assistant dog trainers. Larry Carson is the program coordinator. All of them are volunteers who give unselfishly of their time. The warmth and dedication of these volunteers is apparent even to the dogs, who readily respond to their arrival.
The San Quentin firemen learn how to teach the basic lessons a dog must know to co-exist with the human race. This training gives the dog a much better chance to be adopted. When the dogs reach a higher level in their training, they are awarded a CGC certificate of completion, which stands for Canine Good Citizen certificate.
When canines make it that far, they are ready for a new home. They go back to the shelter to await that special someone to call their own. It’s the firemen’s job to prepare these animals for re-entry into society and they take this charge very seriously.
Once through the program, the dogs have become desirable pets. All the canines are either spayed or neutered, and fitted with micro-chips so they won’t ever again lose their way home. They have also received all the necessary vaccines.
Members of the public who are looking for a pet are encouraged to get in touch with the Marin Humane Society and inquire about the San Quentin dog program (ask for Larry). Those who already work in San Quentin can speak to any of the Fire Captains about the program. They will have all the information available.