Women have partnered to run a service dog training program, rehabilitating animals while also working on themselves.
In the late 1990s, Durlene Westfall and Deborah Norman met while incarcerated at California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona. Paroling in 2012, Norman found an opportunity to give back by working for Canine Support Team, Inc. Meanwhile, Westfall remained incarcerated until she paroled in April 2020.
Canine Support Team provides specially trained service dogs to those in need. The organization has been in CIW since 2002, becoming the first California prison to have a service dog training program.
Norman had the opportunity to visit CIW in 2018 to train the incarcerated population to be Canine Support Team trainers, while she was on parole. Westfall was one of the incarcerated women in the program, allowing the pair to reunite.
After Westfall paroled in 2020, she happened to cross paths with Norman in the community.
Norman, employed as a dog trainer at It’s a Dog’s World K-9 Academy in Chino, invited her to tour the facility. The day Westfall decided to visit, she learned they needed to hire another dog trainer. Within a week, she was employed. Out of the five trainers working at It’s a Dog’s World, four are former long-term incarcerated people from CDCR.
Westfall says of her dog trainees, “Rehabilitation comes in all forms. I’m rehabilitating the dogs, but they are rehabilitating me too.”
Republished from “The Bridge,” the newsletter for the Division of Adult Parole Operations.
What is The Bridge? The quarterly newsletter highlights the many reentry services provided by the Adult Program Unit (APU). These services are designed to aid formerly incarcerated individuals while they’re on parole. APU strives to provide parolees with the tools to successfully reintegrate into society and provide them with the opportunity to give back to the community.