Therapy dogs bring joy, relief to hardened inmates at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles

Therapy dogs bring joy, relief to hardened inmates at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles is a decrepit and dangerous place, described by some as a modern-day dungeon.

But there are some visitors who can bring a smile to the face of everyone on the inside.

Faith and Reign are therapy dogs with the Southern California-based Pet Prescription Team. When they stroll calmly through the corridors of the jail, inmates reach through the bars and give them some soft pets and attention.

Some of the most hardened men on the inside - who haven't had contact with their own pets for years - become sweet and loving when they see them.

"When you're in a facility, you see these people, you know they're here for a reason - and the dog melts them," says Phil Emery with Pet Prescription Team. "You can see their eyes. I'll be honest, I feel you can see a tear."

Custody assistant officer Deanna Valenzuela brought the volunteer program into the jails in 2016.

"A lot of them haven't pet a dog in years, months," Valenzuela says. "But in their minds, it reminds them of their childhood. Lassie, they always call this one (Reign) Lassie."

Reign has been a therapy dog all her life. It's a sharp contrast from her side job - modeling for designers like Ralph Lauren and Gucci.

Some inmates say the dogs make them think of home - and remind them they will be out of jail one day.

"I just want to say I love this dog," says one inmate. "It's very comforting. It relaxes me actually."

Prescription Team volunteer Ace Mask says the dogs should not be thought of as rewards for the inmates.

"I also think it's a mistake to think of the inmates as trash we have to crumple up and throw away," Mask says. "I think we have to keep in mind these people will eventually be released. I believe you commit the crime; you spend the time. But at the same time, I think the ability to show at least a smidgen of compassion to even the worst of us in society, that speaks to our humanity."

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