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Norwich Bulletin - 7/11/2010

Prison Programs

Over fifteen million animals, mostly dogs and cats, are facing euthanasia every year. They have done nothing wrong except to be born in a society that is already overrun with unwanted animal companions. Many of them were in homes that abused or neglected them and now they have no social skills, making them a poor candidate for adoption. They need someone to help them come back to life.

Over a million men and women live their lives in confinement through the correctional system. They have, however, done something wrong, be it murder, robbery, drugs, assault or other bigger or lesser crimes. Many of them were abused or neglected as children. Unlike the animals though, most of these people have the chance to get out of prison and go on with their lives.

Many states have begun to put these two groups together. The inmates find a renewed sense of purpose. The animals learn how to love again – and together they give each other hope and a new lease on life.

The prison dog programs are quite successful. At the Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio, inmates train and socialize dogs who would otherwise be put down. Because of this program, these once doomed dogs are able to be adopted into new, loving, homes. Once an inmate is matched with a dog, that person is solely responsible for the dog’s care. This includes, feeding, grooming, housebreaking, obedience and socialization. After a few months of 24/7 care, the dogs are ready for adoption. There is actually a waiting list for these companion animals because of the training that they undergo before adoption.

At the Ohio Reformatory for Women, inmates volunteer to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife, such as birds, squirrels, ducks, rabbits and so on. It was a great answer for the workers at the Ohio Wildlife Center, who found it overwhelming to care for over 4.000 sick, injured, and orphaned animals every year. The inmates are trained through the Ohio Wildlife Center on how to care for the various animals. They are given detailed guidebooks and then provide twenty-four hour nursing care. The women must learn about the proper diet for each animal, etc. Once recovered the animals are returned to the wild. The goal of the inmates is to get as many animals back to their natural habitats as they can. Wild animals are not pets and deserve to be free.

Maryland has decided to try and offer the young men who are at a residential institution a chance to participate in an animal welfare program in hopes that it will turn some of them around before they end up in an adult prison. They work with retired thoroughbreds. These students are responsible for caring for the farms 25 to 30 horses. They feed, groom, exercise and tend to injuries. Some of the horses that come to the farm are just weeks away from dying. Many of them turn themselves around because of the care they receive from these young men. Hopefully, these horses are giving these young men the same type of turn around.

Every year there are more than 25,000 greyhounds retired from racing. There are some rescue groups who specialize in greyhound placements but there are many more dogs euthanized than adopted. In Kansas, the prison system has opted to foster greyhounds and rehabilitate them for adoption. A racing dog has never been a pet. Usually they have never been in a home, walked up stairs, slept on a couch, had toys or been part of any family. The inmates teach the greyhounds how to be regular dogs. Within weeks they are housebroken, and racing around the recreation yard with their inmate trainer. They sleep in the cells, learn basic obedience and doggie social manners. Within eight short weeks most are very adoptable. That may not sound like a long time but remember that the inmate has nothing to do but devote time to the development of his dog.

In Phoenix, Arizona, there was a need for housing the animals seized by the Animal Cruelty Investigations Unit. These animals are usually in terrible condition and need a Safe House until they are able to be adopted out. Each dog has their own cell and the cats live communally in one of the day rooms. Female inmates share twelve hour shifts, tending to wounded bodies and spirits. After the court case are disposed of (the dogs, not the inmates), they are able to be adopted. This program is “no kill” and the animals remain in the prison until the right home is found.

These are important programs and should be utilized throughout the U.S. The prisoners take animals with undesirable behavior problems and turn them around. And in the process the animals provide socialization and change for the prisoners too. In a time when it appears to be all bad news, here is a very positive program. The prisoners learn to give of themselves and find out what unconditional love really means. The animals win because they are out of a shelter environment and get one on one attention and care. The shelters win because they have a whole slew of foster homes that can totally concentrate on one special animal. Everybody wins!

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