|The Win-Win Effect of Dogs And Corrections|
|By Mag Wright, Mental Health Secretary, (SCI) Lancaster OH|
“We’ll take both of them,” the husband and father of two told me.
He was referring to two of the dogs from the prison training program at Southeastern Correctional Institution (SCI) in Lancaster, Ohio, and to hear those words was music to my ears. Both dogs had been at SCI for nearly six months and both were hard to adopt dogs. One was an all-black mix of about four breeds, and the other was a small male beagle. Both of them were going home! It was a good day. Any day a dog leaves is a good day.
At SCI, we take dogs from three area Humane Societies in Fairfield, Perry and Morgan Counties. All three Societies are overflowing with dogs that are surrendered by their owners, found stray, seized by humane officers, pulled from a dog pound, or just otherwise unwanted. There is no shortage of available dogs. The dogs are taken to SCI after they receive their shots and are spayed or neutered, then assigned to an inmate handler, and kept with that handler 24/7 in order to learn basic obedience. They are then available for adoption to the general public. The program enables the Humane Societies to take on more dogs that need help. It’s a positive partnership.
As the coordinator for the program, I can honestly say that it is a full time job in itself. I am also a departmental secretary, so the “dog work” is all extra. Thankfully, I get help from two other staff members. We keep anywhere from twenty to thirty dogs. Our adoption rate is fairly high: we saw 85 dogs leave between March 2009 and March 2010.
The day that family took two dogs will forever stick in my mind. It is a day that dog rescuers and volunteers live for. They had called me about a week prior, not knowing exactly what they wanted.
“My kids want a dog, my husband wants a dog for when he goes over the road, and I want a dog because I haven’t had one since I was a little girl,” the mom told me.
They came in on a Tuesday morning from a small Ohio town an hour away. I went to meet them at the entrance and I saw a young mom and dad, a long-haired little girl who appeared to be about eight, and then I saw their son. He had two prosthetic legs from the knee down, a baseball cap, an Ohio State t-shirt, and a big, friendly smile.
“Hi,” he said to me. “We want a dog!”
“I know,” I said to him. “And we have plenty to show you.”
The family was processed through and, sporting their Visitor badges, was led to the Visit Room. I had passed over about twelve dogs, all different kinds, including Rex (the black dog) and RC (the beagle). Both were so well trained; I just couldn’t figure out why they had not been adopted.
The family went down the line, meeting one after the other. Then they stood back, looking them all over again. The mother pointed at RC and said “That one is really well-trained.” The boy with the prosthetic legs was pulling RC all over the Visit Room. “Come on boy!” he called cheerfully.
“He is,” I agreed. One of our best handlers had worked very hard with the hard-headed beagle.
The son went up to the inmate who had RC and pulled on his blue state-issue shirt. “Mister,” he said to the inmate. “Mister, I like this dog. I like him a lot.”
I saw the inmate tear up. The boy’s mother went over to RC and they spent some more time with the beagle. I was standing there with the husband. He said, “I like that black dog.” He meant Rex. I told him Rex was an awesome dog who had spent one entire year in the shelter, then six more months here. “He is so happy just to be here,” I told him.
“I want a dog I can take on my runs. I just became an over the road driver.”
“He’d be awesome,” I said.
“My wife said he’s got pit in him,” he said, meaning pit bull.
“Who knows,” I said. “He has shepherd, black lab, and something else. He is so sweet, and he’s really loyal, too.”
“I want him,” the husband said, again.
His wife came back to us. “We’re only getting one,” she said to her husband pointedly. “I know what you’re thinking.”
The husband and I made eye contact and he winked at me.
They took RC that day, having been pre-approved by the humane society, and the husband called the next day; that’s when he said they were taking both dogs and he would be back in one week to get his Rex, his new buddy, his new road trip partner.
Sometimes you just never know. A dog that seems completely unadoptable due to his appearance or breed prejudice eventually finds a home. That’s what I always tell the handlers when they think their dog will never find a home.
“Be patient,” I tell them.
And in the meantime, they are cared for around the clock by men who teach them sit, stay, come, roll over, play dead, how to signal to go outside, and any other trick or command they can handle.
The dogs are a calming influence here at SCI. Staff and inmates alike will stop to pet the dogs, ask about the dog’s health, be thrilled when they get adopted. Being a dog trainer is a highly-desired job at the prison—a job an offender can take to the outside.
Sheri Duffey, Warden of the Southeastern Correctional Institution notes that dog programs have been in existence in Ohio’s prisons since the early 1980’s. “ This program is an excellent opportunity for the offenders to learn a skill while building their compassion and caring for an animal that was otherwise abandoned or mistreated,” stated Duffey. The prison program truly helps the dogs, but in a sense, the dogs help us too, providing more proof to the theory that the bond between humans and animals is powerful, and healing.
Editor's Note: Mag Wright is the Mental Health Secretary & Dog Program Facilitator at the Southeastern Correctional Institution (SCI), in Lancaster, Ohio
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