By Amy Krzanik
“I’ve always been crazy about dogs, but when I was younger, my parents wouldn’t let me have one and it made me furious," says Candide Jones. “As an adult, I’ve had as many as five dogs at a time, but my veterinarian says you don’t need to worry until you get into the double digits," she says and laughs.
The dog lover, who grew up in North Adams, MA, is the catalyst behind the documentary Dog Down, which will be shown at Berkshire Museum’s Little Cinema on Wednesday, July 15 at 7 p.m. Jones, who now lives in Winston-Salem, NC, will be on hand after the screening to answer questions from the audience.
Dog Down follows a handful of inmates at the Forsyth Correctional Center, a men’s minimum security prison in Winston-Salem, as they train unadoptable shelter dogs to become sociable and well-behaved pets. The state-wide program, A New Leash on Life, was created to give a second chance to both canines and their prison companions.
A longtime community volunteer, Jones won an award for her service in 2007 and it came with a $10,000 stipend for a nonprofit of her choice. She used the money to start the Forsyth program, which, like other programs in the state and around the country, partners animal welfare organizations with inmates who dedicate 10 weeks to training dogs in obedience, socialization, crate-training and agility.
Jones, along with two professional trainers, have been working with the program since 2009, taking dogs that have been deemed too rambunctious or too shy and turning them into loving companions. Part of Jones’ job at the prison is encouraging the men to keep a journal, which serves two purposes: the journals are given as a keepsake to those who adopt the dogs, and it allows the inmates a chance to write down their feelings about the process — frustration, confusion, delight. “Often, they’ve never done that before and it’s really good for them psychologically," Jones says.
The film came about because Jones wanted to promote the good work the program was doing and let people know about the exceptional dogs waiting to be adopted. “People can go to the Humane Society or a shelter and point to a dog and say ‘I want that dog,’" she says, “but it’s not easy to get people out to the prison." Jones approached filmmakers about making a 30-second PSA to air on TV, but interest in the subject was so high that many offered to produce a full documentary. The film that director/producer John Le Blanc and editor/producer Steve Childs ending up creating has been shown in 15 film festivals so far and has received many awards.
Jones is hopeful that those who see the film will be inspired to start their own program where they live, as the experience is beneficial for both inmates and dogs. “The recidivism rate is unbelievably low," she says. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved in."
Dog Down Screening & Talk with Candide Jones
Wednesday, July 15 at 7 p.m.
The Little Cinema at Berkshire Museum
39 South Street (Rt. 7), Pittsfield, MA
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