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Inmate Uses Crocheting Skills to Make Sweaters For Homeless Dogs

September 29, 2015

By Rachel Thomson, Communications Specialist

DOC Communications

inmate holding treat down towards four dogs in sweaters

AIRWAY HEIGHTS — Brad Self, a burly, 6-foot-2, felon was standing in a snow-covered prison yard holding a small, shivering Cairn terrier in his arms when an idea popped into his head.

Why not get some yarn and crochet the dog a sweater?

You may be asking yourself at this point why a prison inmate serving time for burglary, robbery and assault is carrying around a tiny, shivering dog in prison. The answer: Self is part of the Pawsitive Dog program at the Airway Heights Corrections Center. The program allows dogs from local animal shelter, SpokAnimal, to live with inmates, who train and socialize the dogs in the hopes of making them become more adoptable.

But we digress.

Self taught himself how to crochet a sweater –-with help of useful illustrations from his grandmother-– and put it on the terrier, which allowed him to enjoy the cold. “He was rolling around in the snow and just loving it,” said Self, who is 33.

Since then, Self has made seven more sweaters for dogs in the Pawsitive Dog program. Self has made sweaters for mostly small breed dogs, but uses the same process when making sweaters for larger dogs.

Each sweater he makes is custom-fitted for the dog. He doesn’t use any fancy equipment-- just a ruler and a string-- to get the measurements of the dog. He begins crocheting rows until he gets a sweater large enough to cover the dog’s body. The length of time it takes to make each sweater can vary from as little as a few hours to several days, depending on the complexity of the design. So far, Self has crocheted designs that include dresses with ruffles, turtlenecks, and even a black-and-white tuxedo.

Self says making the sweaters has benefitted him as well as the dogs.

“It’s been a really great way to stay engaged and burn up time. It’s nice to have something to keep my days full,” he said.

The dog training program began at AHCC in 2012. A dog trainer from Spokane-based Diamonds In The Ruff teaches weekly dog handling classes to inmates. The inmates are responsible for cleaning up after, feeding, training and exercising dogs. They also have to keep journals detailing health and behavioral issues they observe with the dogs, according to Jona Goodall, a secretary senior at AHCC who also helps coordinate the dog program.

Participating inmates cannot have any history of animal abuse and must be infraction free for a certain amount of time. They also must have completed, or be pursuing, a GED and have at least six months left in their sentence. Currently, the prison has 25 inmates in the Pawsitive Dog program.

Self says Pawsitive has made him better at interpersonal communication and having patience. He says training a dog to improve its behavior is similar to his own attitude transformation in prison.

“It’s better to get praise and be rewarded for doing something right than get punished for doing something wrong,” Self said. “It’s definitely changed my outlook in general and I’m more open-minded now.”

Self says he’s looking forward to the future. Self is planning on pursing an Associate’s degree upon release with the hopes of one day becoming an engineer.

He also hopes to adopt a dog after release.

“When I get out, I will have an awesome dog.”

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