Subject : Death Row Dogs, a heart warming story.
    Date : Sat, 10 Jun 2000 14:06:37 -0700
   From : Good Works On Earth
       To : List Member

Good Works On Earth
    Sharing another viewpoint on the Story of Creation :

                     Greetings from Good Works On Earth

                 'Death Row Dogs' Find New Life in Prison
                      Inmates Train Unadoptable Animals

                               March 20, 2000

                   MANSFIELD, Ohio (AP) -- Late last year
                      both Eric Roberson and Star, a young
                    female Labrador retriever, were sitting in
                    their separate cells. He was 16 years away
                  from his first parole board hearing for a 1992
                   murder conviction. She was one day away
                from euthanasia at the Ashland Humane Society.

                  Within 24 hours, they would both be sharing
                   Roberson's cell, and both would be looking
                            toward a better future.

                   While many prisons across the nation have
                    introduced therapy and guide dog training
                  curriculums, Mansfield Correctional Institution
           has established a unique program of its own. The institution
         has begun bringing together castaway dogs from the pound and
                        castaway men from the prison.

       Called 'Death Row Dogs' by the inmates, the dogs are socialized and
        trained within the prison walls, then put up for adoption. Since the
 program began in the fall of 1998, not a single dog has been returned to the pound.

      'These animals are underdogs too,' explains program coordinator Carol
     Mull. 'The men identify with them and have a great desire to help them.'

                           'A harsh environment'

       A high school dropout and father of two young daughters, Roberson
         ended a night of drinking and drug abuse with two friends with the
      robbery of a bar and the murder of its owner. When the friends testified
          against him, Roberson plea-bargained his future and ended up in
           Mansfield. He say he does not remember much of the night.

       Since he came to prison, he has overcome his addictions, earned a high
         school equivalency diploma, and been baptized in the Presbyterian
      Church. But what he says saved his heart came on the day he noticed a
            flyer looking for volunteers to enter a dog training program.

        'We're in a harsh environment here,' Roberson explains. 'I always
      viewed this place as being filled with the rejects of society, so I couldn't
                           imagine this happening.'

                    But Deputy Warden Jesse Williams could.

      Williams had introduced a pilot dog program into the Lorain Correctional
       Institution several years earlier. He found that the presence of dogs there
    provided training and socialization not just for the dogs, but for the prisoners.

When he transferred to Mansfield, he knew he wanted a dog program there as well.

    Officials at the Ashland Humane Society jumped at the chance to participate.

      'It benefits them, it benefits us, it benefits society,' Mull says. 'They're
               so happy they don't have to euthanize these dogs.'

  Prisoner takes over complete care. Prisoners are screened before being allowed to participate.
     There are reviews of their criminal records -- no child or animal abusers,
        no sexual predators -- and of their conduct within the prison walls.

       Once matched with a dog, a prisoner is fully responsible for its care:
      feeding, grooming, washing, housebreaking and training. Cellmates act
      as helpers, but no more. Prison guard Dale Thompson conducts weekly
                       group obedience training sessions.

     Everyone seems to like the dogs. It is difficult to find a staff member who
               does not have a desk drawer full of bones and biscuits.

        'It gives the inmates a feeling of responsibility and the chance to give
                         back to society,' says Williams.

                                 'I fell in love'

        Roberson agrees. 'I didn't think I had any compassion left in me,' he
      says. 'But when I received one of the first dogs in the program, a brindle
      boxer pup named Brin, I fell in love as soon as they laid her in my arms.'

       He carried the fragile puppy across the prison yard to his cellblock, his
                        compassion mixed with anxiety.

         'I was anxious, because I thought guys would think I was soft,' he
                   continues, 'and I was afraid for her safety.'

        But when he got to his cellblock, the men all gathered around. They
       seemed afraid to get too close as well, to show that they cared about
       something. Roberson put the puppy on the ground, and she started to
            run and jump. Men laughed and reached out to touch her.

        When the coldest and most hateful man on the block dropped to the
         floor and rolled around with the pup laughing, Roberson knew that
                        everything was going to be OK.

                          'Always there wagging her tail'

      One year and five dogs later, he received Star. While many of the dogs
      in the program were abused, untrained, and skittish, it was apparent that
      Star had once been somebody's pet. She was housebroken, unafraid of
       the strange noises of the prison, and knew the 'sit' command. Over the
         next seven weeks, Roberson worked on her leash and obedience
         training. She was severely undernourished, so he made sure she
     returned to a healthy weight with food provided by the Humane Society.

                  And over the weeks, their bond grew stronger.

        'No matter what you've done or what kind of day you've had, she's
        always there wagging her tail and giving kisses,' Roberson says as he
                             rubs Star on the head.

                 'She loves me no matter what problems I have.'

               Star and Roberson share their cellblock with 180 other men and one
        other dog. Prisoners in the wood shop build the cages that fit in the
       inmate's 10 by 10 foot cell. At Christmas, some 600 inmates paid $2.50
       apiece to have their picture taken with Star or one of the 15 other dogs
          on the grounds, wearing Santa caps and posing in front of painted
       holiday backdrops. The money raised went into a fund for Amish-made
                          leather collars and leashes.

                            Weekends with guard

       Guard Cathy Schlaeg volunteered to co-train Star, taking her home on
         weekends and introducing her to a very different environment -- of
                    children, cars, malls and the great outdoors.

       She was so smitten with the dog, that when it came time for Star to be
                 adopted, Schlaeg jumped at the chance herself.

         She met Roberson in the prison office to take Star to her new life.
                Roberson knelt next to Star, and rubbed her all over.

     'He was so gentle with her,' Schlaeg explains. 'Just like she was his child.'

      'He told her, 'Now you be a good girl. You remember everything I taught
          you. You're going to a good home where people will love you.''

                           Waiting for another dog

       Swelling with emotion, Roberson gave her one last hug, then rose and walked away.

              'Now get her outta here,' he said, choking back tears.

       These days, Roberson seeks Schlaeg out to ask how she and the dog
  are doing. Schlaeg hopes to be able to bring Star back inside for a visit someday.

    And after several weeks alone, Roberson is waiting for a new dog to love and train.

     'What I did on the outside, it's something I have to accept to keep going in here,' Roberson says.

         'But I've come to learn that life is so precious. I know that now.'

 'Let us reforms our schools, and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons.'
                          John Ruskin (1819-1900)


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