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Inmates and Dogs Bring Out the Best in TAILS

This year marks the 10th anniversary of a transformative program called TAILS. TAILS stands for Transitioning Animals Into Loving Situations and is a partnership between Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. The mission of the program is to provide life-changing benefits to the dogs and the humans enrolled in the program.

PHS/SPCA shelter dogs with various behavioral challenges and with limited adoption potential are paired with minimum-security inmates at the San Mateo County Correctional Center for eight weeks. The dogs are given round-the-clock care and attention, while the inmates are provided an avenue for developing skills and making their time more meaningful. A PHS/SPCA trainer visits the correctional center to meet with the inmates participating in the TAILS program to lead a dog obedience class and to monitor the progress of the dogs and their inmate handlers.

The TAILS program is a unique foster care situation where the dogs live with the inmates, who reinforce lessons from the weekly PHS/SPCA-led behavior classes and ensure the dogs are receiving enough exercise. The inmates also provide socialization, grooming, housetraining, and perhaps the most important of all: tender loving care. An average day for the dogs under the guidance of their inmate handlers consists of multiple exercise sessions in the facility’s yard, group “play dates” with other dogs in the program, individual work on homework assignments from the weekly obedience classes, and socialization with other inmates.

The attention and training each dog receives has been extremely beneficial in transforming the dogs into becoming more adoptable.  To date, the TAILS program has now successfully placed more than 100 dogs into new and loving homes.

PHS/SPCA and the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office holds the TAILS program four times a year. In 2017, for the first time, female inmates participated in the TAILS program. Now the dogs enrolled in the program are paired with both male and female inmate handlers.  While in the program, the dogs have everything they could ever want: lots of attention from their handlers, play time with the other dogs in the program in a dedicated dog run and excellent behavior training.

At the end of the eight week program, the dogs and their inmate handlers enjoy a graduation ceremony at the correctional center. The dogs then head to PHS/SPCA Center for Compassion in Burlingame where they are placed for adoption. Often times, there is a waiting list of people eager to adopt the TAILS graduates.

The transformations that take place throughout the eight-week program are remarkable. The inmates’ work is directly responsible for TAILS dogs being placed into new and permanent homes. The TAILS program is so successful and beneficial, that it serves as a model program for shelters and law enforcement organizations worldwide.

For more information about the PHS/SPCA TAILS program, please visit


PHS Tails program 21


Buffy Martin Tarbox is the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA’s Communication Manager.  She lives in San Francisco with her husband and their cat.


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At press time, all these dogs were available for adoption from the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA. To see more animals and to learn more about them and other dogs, visit



PHS-Benny A8473131

This boy is a 4-year-old neutered male Pit Bull is named Benny. He is active and loves to snuggle. ID# A847313.



Luna and Oliver

PHS-Luna A854642 _ Oliver A8546433

These lovely dogs are a bonded pair of husky mixes. They are about 2 years old. Luna is a female and has been spayed, and Oliver is male who has been neutered. They are very playful and active. ID numbers A854643 and A854642.




PHS-Dottie A8488792

This 8-year-old spayed female is Dottie, a Chihuahua on the shy side who is looking for a quiet home to spend her golden years. ID# A848879.




PHS-Stella A8511865

Say hello to Stella, a 1-year-old spayed female Chihuahua who is very playful and energetic. ID# A851186.




PHS-Ren A8540834

This gorgeous girl has one blue eye and one hazel eye. She is a 1-year-old spayed female husky. ID# A854083.

Main article photo by: Courtesy Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA