shelter dogs turned to therapy dogs

Sheriff’s Office Welcomes New Dogs For Their R.U.F.F. Road Training Program

Inmates at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Detention Services Division Todd Road Jail Facility began this dog-training program on August 23, 2017. For this round of training, VIP Dog Teams joined the program. VIP Dog Teams is a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to provide goal oriented therapy dogs to facilities and individuals in our community.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, VIP Dog Teams, and Ventura County Animal Services are honored to have these dogs named after our fallen officers out in the community to serve those in need of dog-assisted therapy.

The dogs were rescued from Ventura County Animal Shelter by nonprofit VIP Dog Teams, which trains dogs to become therapy animals.

If all goes well, in about 22 weeks the four rambunctious pooches, who’ll receive obedience training from carefully screened inmates at the Santa Paula lockup, will be certified to help, for instance, convalescent home patients recuperate from strokes or schoolchildren with autism break out of their nonverbal shells, said Camarillo resident Nancy Mitchell, who created VIP Dog Teams.

She said patients could throw a ball for the dog as way to recover strength in their arm “or just brush their fur, or even pet them, just to make it more fun for (patients) to do their therapy. Another thing we will be doing is taking them to schools to work with children with IEPs (individualized education plans) who might be very nonverbal and shy.”

How Can You Help With R.U.F.F. Road

(Rehabilitation Utilizing Furry Friends)

Training Program?

  • VIP Mutt Poster - Any amount you would like to give: (the poster is $250).
    • So R.U.F.F. Road dogs can help spread the word about VIP G.O.T. Dogs  (Goal Oriented Therapy Dogs)
  • Food (for 6 weeks) - $60
  • Training Treats (for four weeks) - $20
  • Heart Guard and Nex Guard (for six months) - $195
  • Pet Insurance (for 1 month) - $24
  • Therapy Vest - $25
  • Training Harness & Leash - $45
  • Crate & Bed - $54
  • Private Training (1 hour) - $100
  • Please let us know if you want your gift to be a monthly donation   (you can stop it at any time).


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Under the guidance of inmates, the dogs will learn not to be afraid or startled by things the average dog rarely encounters; like wheelchairs and automatic doors, said VIP Dog Teams trainer Christy Reed-Habrzyk, adding that she was careful in selecting the animals for the program.

“We’re looking for certain personality traits,” she said. “We actually have a set of 12 criteria that we look for. We want to make sure that the dog is not aggressive and that they accept being touched and handled. But testing them out in the shelter is always a little daunting, because you don’t always know if that’s their true nature when you get them outside the shelter.”

Twice a week, Reed-Habrzyk will be at the jail working with the dogs and eight inmates, four men and four women, who were screened for the program by Senior Dep. Shawn Pewsey. The inmates filled out applications and met last week with Mitchell and Reed-Habrzyk for an orientation, the trainer said.

“They’re really excited about working with the dogs,” she said.

Just having man’s best friend around the place changes the entire atmosphere at the 150-acre facility, said Pewsey, who runs the program.

“You walk in with the dogs and people in our classrooms are just glued to the windows. Everyone just loves the dogs,” he said.

Before partnering with the county animal shelter on the RUFF (Rehabilitation Utilizing Furry Friends) Road program last year, officials in the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office detention services division looked into how similar canine programs worked at other jails, he said.

The inmates who work with the dogs often experience a reduction in tension and depression, Pewsey said.

“You see (inmates in the program) kind of opening up more, communicating with staff more,” he said. “At our ceremony last year, the inmates talked about how working with the dogs helped them feel less tense and stressed.”

Naming the program’s canines after the fallen deputies was a way to honor and remember the officers, Pewsey said.

After they graduate the therapy dogs will need homes, and their new owners must agree to take the dogs to their therapy assignments, about twice a month, Mitchell said. The owners also have to complete a training course.

“It’s a triple win,” said Mitchell. “We rescue a dog from the shelter; we help rehabilitate an inmate by teaching them how to train a therapy dog; and we put a trained therapy dog into the Ventura County community.”