Death row dogs get reprieve through prison program

Death row dogs get reprieve through prison program

ONTARIO, Ore. (AP) - The boxer-Akita mix known as Sis had fallen on hard times. Her former home was crowded and she didn't get along with her peers. She found herself unwanted and on doggy death row.

But then she was given a lucky break. She was transported from an animal shelter to Snake River Correctional Institution to become part of a program called Pen Pals at SRCI, in which prisoners work with dogs to fix the animals' problem behaviors.

So far Sis has only been at Snake River for a couple of weeks. But in that time, she has made great progress and is on her way to rehabilitation, according to Barb Hutchinson, president of 2nd Chance Animal Shelter, the organization partnering with SRCI.

"They're doing this in different areas of the country, and we have been looking into doing it for a while," Hutchinson said on the program's one-year anniversary, Jan. 7. "(The first year) was wonderful. It's had a real good impact out here, and it's really had a good impact for us. A lot of these dogs would not be here today if we didn't have this program."

Throughout the year, 47 dogs, many of which would have been euthanized for behavioral problems, have lived at the kennels built at the prison for the program and have received basic obedience training - learning commands like sit, down, come and stay, Hutchinson said.

"It's real customized to what the dog needs," she said. "They come out with a lot of self confidence."

When the dogs are crate- and house-trained and ready for adoption, they are added to an online directory for interested parties to browse. The trained dogs can be adopted for $150, which includes all vaccinations, a leash and spaying or neutering.

The program has been successful, and all of the dogs that have gone through the program have been adopted, SRCI Minimum Facility Manager Lisa Blacketer said, adding SRCI staff members have personally taken home a number of the well-mannered animals.

"I love (the program). It's really beneficial for the inmates that participate in it. It gives them a chance to give back to the community by giving a family a dog they can love," Blacketer said. "It's great for the shelter, too. It's a second chance for (the dogs), and it's a second chance for the inmates."

Chris Larkins, Sis' handler and one of the first two inmates involved in Pen Pals at SRCI, has only a few months left on his sentence, but he will leave the institution with more than a year's worth of experience training problematic, "unadoptable" dogs.

"It's an awesome program. It gave me something to focus on. ... It gives you a good goal," Larkins said with Sis, who was obediently lying at his feet. "It's helped me keep my sanity in here."

Hutchinson puts on a weekly training - covering dogs and the business of dog care and training - at the prison for the inmates in the program.

"I can't say how much Miss Hutchinson has helped us," Larkins said. "She'll come out here at a moment's notice if we have a problem."

The eight specially-chosen handlers, along with several alternates, spend at least 10 hours studying the books and DVDs Hutchinson has provided for them, Larkins said, not to mention the time spent with the dogs.

"You learn from every dog," Larkins said. "It's amazing the personalities that these dogs have. They just need a chance."

When he is released in April, Larkins plans to put to work the skills and knowledge he learned from the Pen Pals at SRCI program.

"I'm going to continue this (dog training)," he said. "I've already started the business part of it. It's already planned out."


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