“The inmates become like dads to these dogs. They take care of them, they bond with them,” says Juanita, a volunteer and founding advocate of the Natchitoches Humane Society’s Happy TAILS (Transporting Animals Into Loving Situations) rescue facility in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
In 2009, the idea for a unique type of no-kill animal shelter was born. The local Jaycees, community members and the local sheriff began working with the NHS on an idea that would eventually save the lives of countless animals and create an amazing volunteer opportunity for select inmates looking to turn their lives around.
The location of this facility is what makes it so special. It’s located on the grounds of an all-men’s prison. “There are many rules we have to follow, but it is very much worth it to come in and help save the lives of animals,” Juanita says. “We are working to fill the gaps of the city and parish shelters. I just don’t know what the animals would do without us. They come to us in the worst conditions, many with mange, sores, heartworms, abused neglected and starving. We get them the medical and often emotional help they need and help them find a new home,” she adds.
Many inmates apply for the position, but only two inmates are selected to work at the rescue. “They have to be interviewed and are carefully chosen by the deputy to ensure the safety of the animals and humane society volunteers,” Juanita says.
When the inmates set off to work each day, they become a part of something many of them have never experienced before. “They will tell me they had no idea places like this to help animals even existed. They are like sponges soaking up everything we teach them. We give them books on types of dog breeds, deworming and other dog topics. They love learning,” says Juanita. “They have even told us that they didn’t know caring people like us existed,” she adds.
Each day the inmate volunteers are in charge of feeding, walking and playing with the approximately dozen or so dogs who are patiently waiting for their new forever homes, as well as cleaning and sanitizing the kennels and play areas. “The inmates will play fetch and run around with the dogs. When I see this happening I feel so good for them. Just like the dogs, many of these inmates have come from hard lives and because of that connection a relationship is formed,” she says.
Many times the bond between the inmates and the dogs becomes so strong that Juanita turns to the inmates for advice when it comes to finding these animals a new home. “Since they get to know these dogs so well, the inmates help us write the dog’s bio that we post on our website regarding likes, dislikes and special needs. The inmates are often also a part of the adoption process. When an adoptee comes to us, we have the inmate talk with the new owners and share with them the personality, temperament and tolerance of the dog,” she says.
Like many animal shelters, funding is a major challenge. “All of our funding comes from donations and fundraising,” Juanita says. But with the help of the inmate volunteers as well as vet tech students from nearby Northwestern State University, the facility continues its mission of saving animals lives. “I tell each dog that arrives, ‘things will get better for you now that you are at Happy TAILS.’ Meanwhile, I tell each of our inmate volunteers, ‘you’re helping this dog enter the next step in their lives.’ It’s a great feeling,” she says.
Happy TAILS is an all-volunteer run organization and is not a branch of any larger animal-welfare or animal-rights organization. The Natchitoches Humane Society is an organization that not only works to rescue the dogs and cats in their care at Happy TAILS but works closely with the city and parish shelters to keep them from having to reduce the number of animals having to be euthanized.
Share Your Finding Forever
In our series, Finding Forever, we are highlighting YOU and the work you do to help animals find the right forever home. We know that a dog or cat can’t say thank you, so we want to showcase the hard work you do. And while at times it can feel frustrating and stressful, it’s important to remember you are not alone and what you are doing is valuable. When we share our knowledge and passion with each other, we can all be on the winning team.
If you have a Finding Forever story to share, we would love to hear it! Email us.
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