Valley State Prison inmates to train dogs from local shelter

Valley State Prison has launched the Very Special Puppy Training Program in partnership with the Madera Animal Shelter and other organizations.

Valley State Prison has launched the Very Special Puppy Training Program in partnership with the Madera Animal Shelter and other organizations.

‘Very Special Puppies’ training program leaps into prison

Valley State Prison (VSP), Yosemite Bark Pet Training, the Friends of Madera Animal Shelter, and the Madera County Animal Shelter have created a unique partnership.

For the first time in the Madera area and the central valley, this cooperative effort will take homeless animals from the Madera County Animal Shelter to the Valley State Prison for 10 weeks of intense training.

The expected result will be highly adoptable dogs, usable skills for inmate trainees, and canine good citizen status for the dogs.

Numerous prisons in California and across the nation have implemented successful dog training programs. VSP will be the first prison in the central valley to develop and establish its own dog training program. This Dog Training Program has been dubbed the Valley State Prison Very Special Puppies (VSPVSP).

Warden Ray Fisher Jr. was excited about the project and the positive impact it would have on everyone involved. Warden Fisher instructed his staff to expedite the project and the first five dogs were delivered Aug. 3.

During the 10 weeks of training, the dogs learn accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, to sit and lay down on command, staying in place, coming when called, polite reaction to other dogs, confidence when distracted, and supervised separation (maintaining good manners and training with another person).

After completion, the dog will receive its Canine Good Citizen Diploma.

Over 200 inmates applied for the opportunity to participate in the program.  The selected inmates will learn basic obedience training skills, pet care, dog grooming and other vocational skills.

The inmates will also increase their sense of responsibility, gain pride in their accomplishments, and provide an invaluable service to the dogs and the community, according to those with the program.

Over 4,000 dogs are in the Madera County Animal Shelter every year. Many are strays no one claimed, many are dropped off by their owners because they can no longer care for them or the dogs are exhibiting negative behaviors.

Most of the homeless dogs are between the ages of 6 months and 1-and-a-half years old and have little or no training. The VSPVSP Program will ensure more dogs get adopted to responsible and loving homes.

Dogs are trained under the supervision of Ali Imel of Yosemite Bark Pet Services who, on a volunteer basis, teach the inmates how to train the dogs three days a week for 10 weeks.

All crates, leashes, food and other supplies and services related to the dogs are donated by the Friends of Madera Animal Shelter, and the dogs are selected and monitored by Madera County Animal Services.

There are no costs to the prison or taxpayers for the program.

For additional information on the program,  how to submit an application as an adopter, or donate to the program, submit your request or donation to the Friends of Madera Animal Shelter at P.O. Box 923, Madera, CA 93639.


29 Responses

  1. Annie Wednesday, August 9, 2017 / 2:07 pm

    I came here for the same reason as many, hoping for an update on the dogs and the inmates in the program. Dogs make everything better. They have only us to care for them, and to dump them or give up hope for their rehab is so sad. So glad that Mr.Brogan and hopefully others are free men now.

  2. Linda Murphy Saturday, March 18, 2017 / 3:56 pm

    Hello John,
    I like many others wondered how you made out after the Nat. Geo segment. I was very happy to find your comments here. Wishing you all the best and great success in you new life.

  3. Paula Wednesday, March 8, 2017 / 7:51 pm

    John: your story touched me and it makes my heart happy for you and what you have accomplished! Hope your life continues to bring you miracles.

  4. M. Javaux Wednesday, September 30, 2015 / 8:49 am

    I believe this is a win-win situation. There are so many animals that are in shelter’s needing a forever home. Many dogs are abused and or neglected.

    Many are labeled by their breed. Thank you to all involved and I cannot wait to see this program start here at Avenal.

  5. John Brogan Wednesday, September 30, 2015 / 7:36 am

    My name is John Brogan. Just over five years ago I was an inmate at Sterling Correctional Facility, Sterling, Colorado. In and out of prison my entire life.

    A dog training program similar to this one changed my life and the lives of the many dogs I was given the privelege of working with. I can’t explain in words how programs like these can change even the hardest of criminals.

    The program in Colorado has been used as a model for many dog training programs in prisons around the country. It’s been a huge success for both men and women’s facilities in the state and continues to help place dogs who would otherwise be stranded in shelters or worse.

    I’m free, free of drugs and alcohol. Free of crime and the burden on society . I’m free of prison and I continue to work with dogs as repayment for the gift that was given to me in the dog training program. You can see my story on NatGeo, Lockdown. Canine companions behind bars.

    • Ali Imel Thursday, October 1, 2015 / 7:01 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story. You make my heart happy!

    • Kelly Sunday, October 11, 2015 / 11:32 am

      I just finished watching Lockdown and was very moved by your interaction with the training dogs. What a great program! I’m glad that you are out of prison and doing well. Keep up the amazing work!

    • MollyMae Wednesday, January 20, 2016 / 7:05 pm

      John, I just finished watching the segment on tv. It’s wonderful what you have done for those dogs and more importantly yourself. It’s great to hear that prison can change people and that they can be productive citizens of society. Keep your head up and continue to do what you’re doing.

    • Carmen Agostini Thursday, January 21, 2016 / 7:42 am

      That is an amazing program, John Brogan. Amazing job. I watched the show last night. This is a great opportunity for inmates to direct their attention into something positive. Thank You for your wonderful work, your love, dedication and compassion.

    • Christine Saturday, April 2, 2016 / 10:05 pm

      I just saw this story on the justice channel. Good for you! God bless you and good luck.

    • Tamala Castleberry Saturday, April 2, 2016 / 10:27 pm

      I have watched the episode of Lockdown featuring the dog training program twice. Words cannot express how impressed I am by the program and the inmates who have participated in the VSPVSP program. I am going to be applying for a helper dog soon. I know it will be a long wait before I actually get a helper of my own. It is my hope that someone like you will have been my helper’s trainer. The fact that the program takes shelter dogs and gives them a chance to belong to someone who truly needs them touched my heart. Keep the faith, Mr Brogan, for you are a VSP (very special person) in your own right! You have a gentle spirit about you that resonates in your love for your work with these beautiful creatures. I hope that the person who trains my future helper is as blessed by the great spirit as you have been.

      Peace be with you and within you,

    • Shivani Thursday, September 1, 2016 / 8:43 am

      John, your story is so impressive.
      The soul chooses its perfect destiny.
      It may be that a gift you haven’t dreamed of yet is just ahead.
      Walk in light,

    • Cicily Mitchell Saturday, October 1, 2016 / 11:06 am

      John I just finished watching Lockdown and was moved to Google to see how you’re doing. I can not tell you the emotion I felt to see that you’re now paying it forward on the outside. Your quiet, calm, soothing spirit I’m sure resonated and gave hope to many people. Thank you for appearance on Lockdown, helping bring awareness to such canine programs available.

    • Dave Kelowna Saturday, October 8, 2016 / 11:59 pm


      I watched you on the documentary where you train the dogs. They didn’t tell us what happened to you I was really upset because of that.

      I’m glad your doing good. I’m 31 and have been a hard drug user since my teens and it has cost me so much. I have spent many years working on my recovery including spending time in the Adult Teen Challenge program a few times.

      I am doing good now and plan on going to college next year finally. I wish you the best also.


    • Bettina D Friday, October 14, 2016 / 1:12 pm

      So happy for you John. I saw you in the documentary. You seen like such a decent good man. Keep up your good spirits and good work! Kudos to you.

    • Brittany Sunday, October 23, 2016 / 3:03 am

      Just watched this yesterday, was wondering if you were able to get parole. So happy for you! Will be praying for your continued strength and success!

    • Gary Tuesday, October 25, 2016 / 6:59 pm

      John just watched your story. I could tell when you had the first dog that you were changing. Dogs bring out the best in people and give us much love. I am so glad you got out and are living a free life. Keep it up man, good for you!

    • Lynn Saturday, March 4, 2017 / 12:59 pm

      What a great and worthwhile program for all involved. Keep up the great work!

    • Danielle McMichael Wednesday, March 8, 2017 / 8:20 pm

      I just happened to catch that episode of Lockdown tonight and had to Google you John to see how things turned out. (It was hard not to root for you.)
      I’m so glad that Bella and Abby (amongst others I’m sure) helped you find your path to freedom.
      Thank you for your continued dedication to helping dogs in need.
      Best to you and yours,

    • Arif Saturday, May 6, 2017 / 11:54 am


      I am glad to hear your life changing experience. I have seen your program on NatGeo. I wish you all well and I am sure you would do well.

      Take care.

    • Agnes Thursday, June 8, 2017 / 10:31 am

      Dear John!

      My name is Agnes, from Hungary, Europe.
      I have just see the NatGeo film from you.
      I would like congratulation for your work, dog training, and free life.
      Sorry, I dont write english very well…
      Good luck!
      Best regards,

  6. Deborah Franklin Tuesday, September 29, 2015 / 5:21 pm

    My husband John has been one of the trainers and says it has “been great.” The dogs are wonderful and the trainers really know what they are doing. This is a very successful program and is wonderful for the inmates. As they prepare to say good-bye to the first graduates they are also excited about the new recruits coming in a few weeks. Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

  7. Linda Hagen Thursday, September 24, 2015 / 12:26 pm

    Wish there were a way we could “loan” a dog to the program for training. I have a dog who could provide a challenge, and I would be happy to supply the crate, food and anything else needed, and then re-adopt her when she is trained. Just saying!

  8. D/CMF Thursday, September 24, 2015 / 12:12 pm

    Hoping to see this become commonplace at all facilities so that many more of the interested inmates can take part. Thank you to the staff involved and to those big-hearted volunteers doing the training three times per week for 10 weeks … that’s commitment.
    And to the lucky dogs: congrats!

  9. Sandra Warnock Thursday, September 24, 2015 / 11:15 am

    Excellent! I concur with the previous comments wholeheartedly.

  10. Sally Hobson Thursday, September 24, 2015 / 10:54 am

    I think this is a program that every CDCR facility should have! I recently saw a documentary on Netflix – it’s a great solution for all involved!

    • Sally Hobson Thursday, September 24, 2015 / 10:57 am

      …..Not to mention the psychological and physiological benefits for the inmate!

  11. Dana Viray Thursday, September 24, 2015 / 9:32 am

    Thank you Valley State Prison for partnering with Friends of Madera Animal Shelter. A beautiful program helping the forgotten souls of this shelter and an uplifting, positive experience for inmates. Best wishes to those involved. Hopeful this will be the beginning for more of our institutions and communities to start life saving programs like this.

  12. T. Reece Thursday, September 24, 2015 / 9:31 am

    Hooray for VSPVSP! I am one of many fervent supporters of such programs, recognizing the win-win-win benefits: the animals benefit from the love and training, the inmates benefit from the education and empathy, and society benefits from the betterment of both halves of the learning equation. Kudos to all involved.

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