Pawsitive Change Program changing the lives of dogs and juvenile inmates gets a celebrity visitor: Kristen Bell
Photo taken from Instagram of Pawsitive Change

Photo taken from Instagram of Pawsitive Change

At a juvenile women’s detention facility in Bakersfield the girls got quite a surprise last Tuesday March 26th, when Kristen Bell came to visit. She spent hours getting to know all of the girls and she learned about the work they are doing with pups through the Pawsitive Change Program. She took time out of her busy schedule (and her daughter’s birthday!) to learn more about this program.

The Pawsitive Change Program is an intensive rehabilitation program that matches death row dogs from shelters throughout California and with inmates inside California State Prisons, including maximum security prisons, and the female juvenile inmates Kristen Bell spent time with in Bakersfield. The transformative program is guided by 4 experienced trainers over the course of 14 weeks, during which the inmates work towards vocational accreditation and the dogs towards their Canine Good Citizen Certification—giving the rescue pups a fighting chance of finding forever homes.

Woof Republic caught up with Zach Skow, the creator of the Pawsitive Change as well as the founder of Marley’s Mutts. His life’s mission is to help all dogs no matter how tragic their back story or start to life, and work to find them a loving forever home. Marley’s Mutts is a non-profit organization that rescues, rehabilitates, trains and re-homes death row dogs from Kern County’s high-kill animal shelters. In addition , we utilize the rescued dogs to transform people’s lives. Through the power of the human-canine bond, we  empower dogs and people to live healthy, happy and productive lives.

He explains, “we take dogs for the Pawsitive Change program from all over and all situations: Kern County, Upland, Carson, The Sato Dog Project and are some dogs are even saved from China. These dogs many times can be in rough shape.”

On the human side, enrollment in the Pawsitive Change Program is earned: inmates have to write an essay to articulate their passion to be a part of this program. During the 14 week program, the inmates work with the dogs for 13-14 hours a day and sleep in the facility. The intense amount of work, homework, and diligence required causes the inmates grow extremely close to the dogs during this time.

In addition to giving inmates a unique sense of responsibility, Zach believes the program teaches everyone involved that “energy is everything, and the experienced trainers have to teach the inmates that the dogs completely feed off their energy, and they need to learn how to set the right tone.”

Here is a video of a lead trainer working with the group and the dogs to do exactly that:

Zach says he is blown away by the inmates. “They are empathetic, brilliant, compassionate, creative and dedicated. This program opens them up and teaches them how to be a professional. Many inmates end up working as professional trainers or working professionally with dogs once they leave the prison system.”

All of this lead Kristen Bell to become personally interested in the program, and she wanted to learn more and see the impact of the Pawsitive Change Program in action. After her visit, Kristen caught up with 23 ABC out of Bakersfield. “I want to highlight the work of these incredible people.”” She told the newscast. “This program is affecting a lot of change. People in facilities like this don’t get a lot of affection. They don’t know how to discuss affection or their emotions.” The dogs act as a form of therapy for these inmates.

She also explained, that this program is so important because it is a “reminder that you need a support system, As humans we need each other as a support system because if you don’t have that you don’t know the right path. These girls in here took the wrong path and made mistakes, but they are paying the consequences and attempting to learn the life skills to live better lives.” The work of this program will significantly improve their lives in the short-term and the long-term, all while helping these animals get a second lease on life.

Pawsitive Change Program measures success by the following metrics:


  • Increased willingness and ability to cooperate and engage positively in team-settings

  • Increased ability to tolerate and experience emotional discomfort in a constructive manner

  • Increased ability to express emotional discomfort in a constructive manner

  • Increased awareness of the needs and emotions of self and others, and appropriate responses

  • Increased reported sense of self-esteem and social value

  • Increased willingness and ability to engage in honest self-reflection

  • Increased understanding of canine behavior and how canine-handling principles can be applied to interpersonal relationships in and out of incarceration

  • Procurement of canine-handling skills for professional application after incarceration


  • Completion of Canine Good Citizen Certification

  • Increased signs of trust and respect with handlers and other humans

  • Decreased symptoms of nervousness, insecurity, and fear

  • Decreased tendencies toward possessiveness and territoriality

  • Increased balanced social behavior toward other dogs

  • Increased obedience to handlers

Woof Republic applauds the diligence and care of the Pawsitive Change Program to invest their time and resources with these inmates as well as these rescue pups. Both the inmates and these death row dogs are an overlooked and at times a forgotten group. Their work goes beyond helping the community because it is also lowering the euthanasia numbers of dogs within these communities and encouraging an environment of love and care within every community they touch. It is important to remember that people make mistakes but everyone (both pups and people) deserves a second chance.

Here is a great video featuring Zach Skow to learn more about Marley’s Mutts:

To learn more about the Pawsitive Change Program click here. To donate and support this incredible program click here