Pawsitive Change Program Rehabilitates Dogs And Inmates: Troy’s Journey

By Belinda Cai

Troy McDaniel with chihuahua-doberman pinscher mix, Chi Chi.
Troy McDaniel with chihuahua-doberman pinscher mix, Chi Chi.

While in prison, Troy McDaniel got stuck in a routine, going to the yard and reading books in his spare time. When Pawsitive Change Program — a comprehensive inmate-canine training program that takes place over a three-month period — came to his prison, he decided to give it a go. 

This was the first time the program took place at any prison, back in early 2016, and it was off to a successful start. Pawsitive Change is now in six California state prisons and one girls juvenile facility. The purpose of the program is to rehabilitate shelter dogs, readying them for adoption, and to also rehabilitate men and women, readying them for life on the outside.

“I didn’t expect to learn skills that would help me start my own business and help people,” says McDaniel. “I took in everything they taught us. Once I advanced in the program, I became a mentor and could teach other people. I would show them how to walk a dog, put them in a crate and help them through various situations. It gave me skills and the confidence to speak publicly and to help people.”

“This was exactly what Zach Skow, the founder of Pawsitive Change Program and Marley’s Mutts, wanted to achieve. He wants to give inmates and dogs a second change, and to fight recidivism.”

This was exactly what Zach Skow, the founder of Pawsitive Change Program and Marley’s Mutts, wanted to achieve. He wants to give inmates and dogs a second change, and to fight recidivism. Prior to starting these programs, Skow always felt like somebody who was on the other side of society — the wrong side of the tracks, he says. 

Zach Skow, founder of Pawsitive Change Program and Marley’s Mutts.
Zach Skow, founder of Pawsitive Change Program and Marley’s Mutts.

“I’ve dealt with alcoholism and drug addiction for most of my life. I’m 12 years sober now, but prior to rescue, I was a destitute alcoholic and drug addict,” he says. “I went into liver failure and needed to turn my life around — that’s how I ended up starting Marley’s Mutts. Through this process of recovery and rehabilitation, I’ve gotten hope and I seek to give that to others. I wanted to help the men and women like me.

“The focal point of Pawsitive Change is to give access to hope to incarcerated men and women, along with shelter pets. Zach says the biggest disparity in the U.S. is access to hope, which then translates into realization and actualization of dreams.”

The focal point of Pawsitive Change is to give access to hope to incarcerated men and women, along with shelter pets. Zach says the biggest disparity in the U.S. is access to hope, which then translates into realization and actualization of dreams. This is especially the case with the formerly incarcerated. 

Through the program, the inmates train for 13 and a half hours a day. Class takes place once a week between three and four hours. Participants work on homework, presentation, emotional honesty and availability, and elements of sobriety — everyone’s taking positive steps forward. 

They’re having to make speeches in front of their whole team. It galvanized them into self-actualization and self-esteem. Eventually, they work toward getting their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification.

Troy’s Story

Troy with his Pawsitive Change Program certificate of completion.
Troy with his Pawsitive Change Program certificate of completion.
Troy with other inmates.
Troy with other inmates.

“The first dog I received was Nelson, a blue-nosed pitbull with some anxiety issues,” says McDaniel. “I then had a chihuahua-doberman pinscher mix named Chi Chi. Lastly, I worked with a husky puppy. The dogs all had their own struggles, but they rehabilitated me more than I rehabilitated them. Each dog helped me to look at things from different perspectives, and to look at myself and my life differently.”

“The dogs all had their own struggles, but they rehabilitated me more than I rehabilitated them. Each dog helped me to look at things from different perspectives, and to look at myself and my life differently.”

In 2019, McDaniel started a dog corporation, Pack Runner. He’s already taking his knowledge from the program and using it on the outside. And he couldn’t be happier. 

“What we do is help people build a better relationship with their pet,” explains McDaniel. “People call me about dog aggression and other behavioral issues. I go and assist them with those issues. Now we’re in the process of starting a nonprofit organization called Pack Hustle.”

Pack Hustle is going to be a youth-building program that trains at-risk youth on how to properly walk and exercise with dogs. That’s what McDaniel wants to give back to the community in Solano County, where he lives. 

Troy with dogs.
Troy with dogs.
Troy working with youth and dogs.
Troy working with youth and dogs.
Teenager with dogs.
Teenager with dogs.

“We’re going to start out here and I eventually want to spread it out to various states,” he says. “I want to build the first youth dog psychology center. Kids can come interact, learn and play with dogs. It keeps them out of trouble.” 

“McDaniel explains he wants kids to say, ‘I’m going to the the park to do some reps with my dog! Wanna come?’ He wants these kids to be pros by the time they’re 18 years old so they can be their own contract pet trainer within the pet industry. ’That way they’re set,’ he says. ‘The pet industry isn’t going anywhere but up.’”

McDaniel explains he wants kids to say, “I’m going to the the park to do some reps with my dog! Wanna come?” He wants these kids to be pros by the time they’re 18 years old so they can be their own contract pet trainer within the pet industry. 

“That way they’re set,” he says. “The pet industry isn’t going anywhere but up.”

The first time McDaniel went to Cesar’s ranch, the two talked about McDaniel’s plans.

“I told him I wanted to work with the youth,” explains McDaniel. “He said, ‘That’s good! Focus on teaching the kids about energy. What’s the state of mind of this dog?’ Talking to Cesar and talking to the kids in my community inspired me to get started on this.”

Troy with Cesar Millan, from the  Dog Whisperer  shows.
Troy with Cesar Millan, from the Dog Whisperer shows.

According to Skow, a lot of the program graduates work as professional trainers and have small business. Some work with rescues and shelters. That’s what Skow really wants to do — show how one industry can welcome the formerly incarcerated and set the stage for access to hope for millions. 

“That’s what Skow really wants to do — show how one industry can welcome the formerly incarcerated and set the stage for access to hope for millions.”

“Our plan is to shift the consciousness of America to accept incarcerated individuals into their hearts, homes and workplaces,” Skow says. “It’s an obnoxiously unfair mountain to climb if they get out of prison if they expect to be even mildly successful. We have to change that.”

Visit Pawsitive Change Program’s website here.

Visit Pawsitive Change Program’s Instagram here.

Visit Troy’s business, Pack Runner, here.

Originally written for Dog Whisperer HQ: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY. 

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