Billy Moore’s Dog Training Program Teaches Residents About Unconditional Love

Dog training programs are not new to MTC correctional facilities. However, it’s never been done before at the Billy Moore Correctional Center in Overton, Texas – until now.

“Rusk County has had a stray dog problem for a number of years,” explains Warden John Cochran. “And so the sheriff reached out to us and just asked if MTC could do anything to help Rusk County.”

Collaborating with several community organizations, including Rusk County Pets Alive, the program began in April 2023. The person asked by Pets Alive to run the program on a volunteer basis was a local dog trainer with an established reputation for success: Jamie Fenton Stearns.

“And I said, ‘Do you know where I learned how to train dogs from?’ And they said, ‘No, what are you talking about?’,” says Jamie.

Jamie herself is formerly incarcerated. From 2014 to 2016, she was a resident at the MTC-operated Gregory S. Coleman Correctional Unit in Lockhart, Texas. It was there that she was a part of the “Paws in Prison” program and upon her release was able to establish herself in a successful dog training career.

Billy Moore Dog Program Still
Jamie Stearns, dog trainer.

“For them to see someone that’s going through the exact same thing that they’re going through now, and taking those same skills that she learned while she was incarcerated and using them, and seeing where she’s been successful,” says Warden Cochran. “They know that ‘Hey, if I get these skills, I can use them. I can be successful.’ Because she’s doing exactly what she’s trying to help them to accomplish.”

“I know what it’s like to not have family on the outside, and I know what it’s like to have given up,” Jamie says. “And then you gave me a dog and you taught me to love again. And you taught me how, maybe, to be a better person, a productive member of society, by having responsibilities where I had to put somebody before me.”

Billy Moore Dog Program Still
Billy Moore dog program.

Jason Koch is a resident of the facility and a dog trainer. “Getting the dogs right off the street and they’re scared, they’re nervous,” he says. “Some of them are real high anxiety and they’ve been abused. Now they get to come in and be loved, and they get to work with people that are caring for them. They trust us, and then we end up trusting them.”

“You can’t argue with the love of a dog,” Jamie explains. “It’s unconditional. Some of them may have not found their faith yet, but they believe in a dog.”

Billy Moore Dog Program Still
Billy Moore dog program.

“I would like to continue to do this when I get out,” says Jason. “And then I want to work with rescue dogs and train them and train new trainers.”

“The team at MTC here at this unit has been amazing,” Jamie says. “From classification to the librarian to the chaplain to the guards. We have a wonderful warden here. Not going to lie.”

“It all goes back to BIONIC,” Warden Cochran says. “‘Believe It Or Not I Care’. And she witnessed that while she was at the Coleman facility. It literally changed her life when she got out. And now she’s turned back around and she’s implementing that same BIONIC philosophy and helping these other guys succeed. So, yeah, it’s just really powerful.”