Inmates care for displaced, deaf shelter dogs

Last week, when dozens of deaf dogs were forced to leave their shelter facility because of a nearby “sand fire,” they found a safe haven in an unlikely place – the California State Prison in Los Angeles County. The dogs were in the care of Deaf Dog Rescue of America, which had reached out to several agencies for help as the threat of fire loomed.

The only institution which agreed to take in the displaced dogs was the prison, which has a Paws for Life training program in place at the prison facility. The program is sponsored by Karma Rescue, and it involves prison inmates who are paired with rescued shelter dogs.

Lisa Tipton, with Deaf Dog Rescue of America, described the difficult decision to move the dogs out of the Ranch facility which they call home:

We watched the fire grow larger and larger day by day, with very unpredictable behavior due to the wind and extreme heat. We could see flames on the hills from the Ranch, and knew that one floating lit ember could set the Ranch afire. Evacuating 45 dogs in the middle of the night wasn’t realistic if we had to do it ourselves. So we made the decision to be pro-active instead of reactive and evacuate while we had help from adopters, volunteers and wonderfully kind strangers.


Tipton worried about transferring the dogs to the care of the prison inmates, but her husband Mark, the Master Trainer for Paws for Life, assured her that everything would be okay. After seeing how the inmates cared for the displaced dogs, Lisa admitted that her husband was “150 percent correct” that the inmates were capable of caring for their temporary canine guests.

Lisa described what she saw upon visiting the prison the morning after the dogs were delivered:

The dogs were happy, there was a lot of activity in the yard, and some of the dogs were out on leashes with the inmates. There was so much joy, and it was infectious. The inmates were happily cleaning the runs, and the dogs were thriving under their care. Even the dogs that don’t normally greet strangers so nicely were doing well. I was very relieved.

She added:

the inmates were really put to the test. And they cheerfully did a fantastic job, and showed the world how much they’ve learned in two years. The inmates and prison staff were a ray of sunshine in a very difficult situation.

According to the Paws for Life website, the program is California’s first and only program in a high-security prison involving inmates serving life-term sentences.  The program has been underway for just over two years and thanks to training by inmates, 75 dogs have been adopted to their forever homes, with their Canine Good Citizen certification.

Lisa Tipton described the program’s powerful impact:

Having the dogs on the cell block improves life for the inmates. They are providing care and training for dogs who provide unconditional love to them. It’s a bright spot in a very inhospitable place to spend one’s life.

The dogs who participate in the Paws For Life program come from open-admission animal control agencies in Los Angeles city and Los Angeles county – many of the dogs are taken directly off of the euthanasia list.

Tipton commended the inmates, and the dogs who were moved to an unfamiliar location to be cared for by strangers. All of the dogs are back at the Ranch and doing well.

Lisa stated:

Our dogs are so happy to be home- they are in good spirits and great health. They slept pretty solidly for the first day to the point that we had to wake some of them for dinner! We are really proud of our dogs, too. They were pretty easy to handle, even under the duress of loading and unloading twice. The work continues here: transport crates are being scrubbed and neatly organized so that they are readily accessible, laundry is being done, meals and daily treats prepared. Doing our best to get back to normal and get rested up as quickly as possible. We’re preparing here for a very long fire season this year!

Read more about Paws for Life at this link. Find the Deaf Dog Rescue of America website here. Follow Deaf Dog Rescue of America on Facebook here.

Penny Eims

Penny is a freelance writer who provided content to her National Dog News column at for 8 years. She is a current contributor to Fido Friendly Magazine, as well as a newly formed website, Pet Rescue Report. Penny is married and she has two rescued German shepherds and two kids.