ORANGE COUNTY, California –
The stereotypical profile of a pitbull walking the streets at night and getting picked up by dogcatchers is all too familiar for most people living in California. That’s why it’s the first state to have a “scared straight” program to put troubled young dogs back on track.
Scared Straight is a program that was originally designed for troubled teenage human children, but M. Walden, the owner of a dog pound in Orange County, saw the program’s design as an opportunity to extend help to other communities.
“These dogs don’t know what it’s like being locked up,” Walden told Empire News in a recent interview. “We’ve had youth intervention programs before where we just talk to them, but they all just look away like they don’t even understand what we’re saying. It’s frustrating.”
The program operates in much the same way with dogs as it does for troubled teens. Puppies, usually age two months to two years, are brought in and put through the same process as impounded dogs. They are harnessed, muzzled, and transported via cages.
Walden explained a typical day at the Scared Straight program to us:
“We show them what it’s like being locked up inside. Stuck in a cage in a room full of obnoxious barking dogs all day. These dogs don’t care – most of them are in here for life. But they see these young puppies walk in here with everything to lose and they really feel for them. We let them talk one-on-one for a while. The transition of growling dogs everywhere to a real sincere chat with a heartbroken lifer really gets to some of these pups.”
Walden says the hardest part is seeing some of the same puppies come in a year later to be locked up, but also that they make the next generation that much more scared to continue their destructive behavior.
The program is expected to spread to other parts of California with some funding and community support. So far its response has been overwhelmingly positive, and bad behavior in young puppies has dropped significantly.