Interview: Dogs on the Inside, Documentary About A Prison Program for Rescue Dogs

Posted on February 10, 2015 at 7:00 am

Dogs on the Inside” is a profoundly moving documentary about a program that teaches prisoners how to care for rescue dogs.  Seeing the dogs and the men in prison learn patience and trust from each other is touching and inspiring.  I imagine it will attract the attention of Hollywood as it would make a great feature film.

The documentary is available today on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, VUDU, and I spoke to directors Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup and Candido Santiago, a graduate of the program who appears in the film.

How did you first learn about this program?

BC: Doug and I were looking for a story about dogs that we wanted to be both compelling and kind of informative about how great dogs are. But we wanted it to have a little bit of an edge and we discovered this prison dog training program and thought it was both a no-brainer in the sense that the program existed and taking stray dogs and pairing them with prison inmates, I thought it was interesting. I think that was the story to bring to life on film.

What did the inmates learn from the dogs?

BC: I think the biggest thing that they learned was understanding, kind of getting outside of their own heads and learning about the benefits of helping others and in this case it was dogs.

DS: I think the most important thing they learned was that they are still human. If an image were to pop in your head of an inmate you might just think that of something negative and I think what this film does is remind people that wherever you are, if you are even an inmate it does not matter, you’re still human.

CS: From an inmate’s point of view, it was more often learning how to cope and deal with not only the other cons but also with dogs as well and growing with them as well as a person.

What are the qualities that are required for the inmates who participate?

Copyright 2015  Bond/360
Copyright 2015 Bond/360

DS: Before they can be allowed into the program, each of the inmates is thoroughly screened. What they are looking for is patience, responsibility, and trust, and most importantly caring. And overall they cannot be violent, they cannot have any type of violent history.

Are there other programs like this throughout the country?

DS: There are and since we started filming over three years ago they have been continuing to pop up all over the country.

And are there any studies being done of how effective they are or monitoring the participants after they leave?

BC: Yes. There is a great program called New Leash On Life USA, based in Philadelphia. And they are the gold standard for this type of prison program because they have measurable results and the recidivism rate for prison inmates coming out of Philadelphia prison system goes down about 50% by comparison to the average. These guys are actually staying out of jail because of what they do helps them get internships, help get them placed in jobs in animal care and those kinds of things. So it is much about a person as it is about an animal.

Do many of them chose to continue professionally with animal care when they get out?

CS: I want to be a zookeeper. I love animals in general. The person that gets into these dog programs, they have got to love animals first and foremost. If I could, I would own a farm and adopt all of them. Because I love animals in general but reality is that I can only take the step of helping the dogs that are in shelters. I’m going to be donating my time doing that in a shelter out in Springfield, Massachusetts. I’m going to get my education and try to see if I can become the very best zookeeper that there ever was in history.

Candido, tell me a little bit about your first experience in working with one of the dogs.

CS: My first experience was with Sam, who was a very scared dog, he was very skittish, he used to tremble when he first got there. He used to growl when anyone got close to him and it took me a little bit of time to actually get him comfortable with me. What I mean by that is, it took me a few days but I got half my body inside the crate in order for him to feel comfortable with me. Then once I was able to finally caress him and rub him, I guess he looked at me like “Wow! You are not what I expected.” So with that being said I carried on and everything, he was a Chihuahua and by the end of the term he got adopted to a very young, very beautiful kindhearted person. She got married, the lady that is Sam’s owner and they sent me pictures of Sam in a tuxedo, so I’m guessing he was the Best Dog.

When an animal has been abused and is afraid of people, how do you gain their trust?

CS: I know that for me it took a lot of patience first. I looked at Sam the way I looked at my own life. I could relate to the way he felt, the way he thought probably. And in the beginning when I tried to get close to him and he growls, I got up, kept walking around doing whatever I had to do in the room but I still talked to him and I told him “Don’t worry about it. I got you, I’ll take care of you, sooner or later you’ll come around.” And that’s basically it, you have got to have a lot patience and a lot of love for any animal that goes through something like that. I mean it’s horrendous to begin with but you have got to have a lot of understanding too behind it. I’ll say this too, it took a little bit of bribery too. I used to give them treats, and I mean, who doesn’t like treats? I love treats. I love candy bars so you give me a candy bar and I’ll do anything for one bar, how about that?

So you can identify.

CS: Yes, I could definitely, with Sam and with every dog that kept coming through there.

And what was the most important thing that you learned from the training that you got about working with the dogs?

CS: I learned a lot actually. The trainer that we had, her name is Paulette, she is a very good trainer. She taught us and it was installed in me by her to have patience but be firm, to be loving and caring at the same time. But also to try to understand their point of view as much as possible. It’s about them primarily, you’ve got to put them first before yourself. It’s like having a baby, when you have a baby, your baby comes first before yourself.

What do you want people to learn from this film?

DS:  If they could adopt a dog that would be wonderful but that’s a lot of responsibility so I think one of the things that people can take away from this film is that they have the opportunity to make a difference on their own. And it is attainable for them, it is not too far out of reach for each person. And not only that but to remind people that everyone is equal and to believe in second chances.

BC:  I think for me it is to remind people that there’s some really good things going on around the world. That is one of the motivations we had in looking for a story. It just goes to show that with effort and the right thoughts we can really create the magic in this world.

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