Shaggy mutts and unshorn poodles howl and pant as their fur is shampooed and shaved, their toenails snipped.

That scene will soon be familiar behind the barbed-wire gates of the Edmonton Institution for Women.

Canada's correctional system is turning to animals to help turn Alberta's federal inmates into fully licensed dog groomers.

Prisoners at the Edmonton Institution will soon have access to the vocational training program, the first of its kind in Canada.

Lyn Cardus, whose Alberta School of Dog Grooming helped design the program, said the training will help empower women during their time behind bars, and make them employable upon release.

"There are so few opportunities for women in these institutions," Cardus said during a Thursday morning interview on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"These women get stuck into a cycle of behaviour. To offer them an opportunity to break that cycle, to become independent, and be able to earn a living once they leave the institution is very important to me."

The course will span 12 to 16 weeks, and include a total of 480 hours of hands-on training, according to a tender issued by the Correctional Service of Canada. The first session of training is expected to be completed by March 2017.

Cardus — who worked as a police officer in the United Kingdom before immigrating to Canada a decade ago — knows that security needs to be program's chief concern, and said students enrolled in the program would be heavily screened by corrections staff.

"They will make very, very careful assessments of the ladies that they have in the institutions. They will bring the candidates down to a short list, and then we would go in and interview them, and pick those candidates that we think would be the most successful."

'Break the cycle'

Graduates of the program would be certified by the Canadian Professional Pet Stylists, the only federally registered body for dog grooming in the country.

Cardus said her school has a 100-per-cent employment rate for graduates, and she expects inmates will have similar success.

"It's a growing industry, and we don't anticipate any problems with these ladies finding full-time employment," she said. "It can be a very, very worthwhile career with an opportunity for people to make a respectable living."

Inmates will have to groom more than 100 dogs before they can be certified. Non-profit groups, rescue agencies and anyone with access to dogs will be offered free grooming services to meet the program's enormous need for unkempt canines.

Sniffer dogs, and the pets of prison staff,  may also get access to free haircuts.

"We feel like this would be a major bonus for the community," said Cardus. "It would be a win-win situation."

Not only will the program graduates re-enter the workforce, Cardus said inmates will also benefit from the healing power of working with animals.

"Animals will accept you exactly as you are in the moment," she said. "They have no interest in who you were before, or who you're going to be in the future.

"It's all about your interaction with them in that moment, and that's so beneficial."