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Therapy Dogs Bring Joy and Relief to Inmates at Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles

by Lisa

Despite its reputation as a decrepit and challenging environment, Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles welcomes some heartwarming visitors who bring smiles to the faces of everyone inside.

Meet Faith and Reign, therapy dogs from the Southern California-based Pet Prescription Team. As they calmly stroll through the jail’s corridors, inmates reach out through the bars to offer gentle pets and attention. Even the most hardened men inside the facility, many of whom have not had contact with their own pets for years, become tender and affectionate when they see these therapy dogs.

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“When you’re in a facility, you see these people, you know they’re here for a reason – and the dog melts them,” says Phil Emery from the Pet Prescription Team. “You can see their eyes. I’ll be honest, I feel you can see a tear.”

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Custody assistant officer Deanna Valenzuela introduced the volunteer program into the jails in 2016, recognizing the positive impact it could have on inmates.

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“A lot of them haven’t pet a dog in years, months,” Valenzuela explains. “But in their minds, it reminds them of their childhood. Lassie, they always call this one (Reign) Lassie.”

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Reign has been a therapy dog her entire life, a stark contrast to her side gig as a model for designers like Ralph Lauren and Gucci.

Some inmates share that the presence of these dogs evokes feelings of home and serves as a reminder that they will eventually be released.

“I just want to say I love this dog,” expresses one inmate. “It’s very comforting. It relaxes me actually.”

Ace Mask, a Prescription Team volunteer, emphasizes that these dogs should not be seen as rewards for the inmates. Instead, it’s an opportunity to show compassion and recognize the humanity even in those facing incarceration.

“I also think it’s a mistake to think of the inmates as trash we have to crumple up and throw away,” Mask reflects. “I think we have to keep in mind these people will eventually be released. I believe you commit the crime; you spend the time. But at the same time, I think the ability to show at least a smidgen of compassion to even the worst of us in society, that speaks to our humanity.”

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