Rci Prison Rescue Dog Programme Making A Difference
When Layla, a 15-week-old chocolate Labrador mix, first came to the Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown on Sept. 2, she could not walk on a lease, play with other dogs and wanted to be left alone in her crate.
Layla had been abused and severely kicked by her owner.
Today, she is a happy puppy who plays, follows commands and loves affection — all thanks to her dog “handler” and prison inmate Shomauri Crawford.
“She came in here really shut down,” Crawford said at a special “Howl-a-ween” event held at the prison Friday. “She didn’t show any emotion. Now she is really smart. She plays fetch and retrieves. She’s even doubled in size.”
Layla and Crawford are part of the prison’s Happy Hounds Dog Program, which pairs an inmate with a rescue dog.
Under the program, which began in 2011, inmates at the medium-security prison, live, care and train rescue dogs that have been mistreated and abused.
Dogs stay with an inmate anywhere from four months to six weeks before being adopted by someone on the outside.
Decked out in Halloween costumes, Layla and nine other dogs romped in the prison yard Friday.
Although their handlers were required to leash their dogs, it did not stop the barking and excitement when a chocolate Labrador named Ford was first introduced to his handler, Terry Kepps Jr.
“I’m overexcited,” Kepps said. “This is my third dog, but my first puppy. He will just be loved and trained well to prepare for adoption.”
The program is a benefit for both the dogs and the inmates, officials said.
“It gives (inmates) a sense of accomplishment,” prison Warden Richard Miller said. “It gives them skills they can use when they get back out to their communities. It’s a win for the community and for the family that gets to adopt these dogs.”
Happy Hounds should not be confused with the now defunct Prison Pet Program, which was run at the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown.
That program was shut down by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in Dec. 2015, when an inmate and staff member were bitten by dogs.
It was also found that the program was being operated without formal approval from the Division of Correction in the prisons department.
State Sen. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, who was at Friday’s event, said when that program closed, he heard from upset constituents.
“A lot of people reached out to me, and I reached out to the department …,” he said. “I found out (Happy Hounds) was already here, so I was able to highlight that.”
Serafini praised the program.
“The benefits are powerful,” he said. “It’s a great program. People need to know that.”
Diane McIntosh, director of Happy Hounds, praised the inmates.
“They are the best of the best,” she said.
Every six months, each inmate receives a Certificate of Achievement and the title “Behavior Modification Rescue Dog Trainer.”
The inmates receive their training from Linda Domer, a certified dog trainer.
“I come out twice a week to give training,” Domer said. “All these dogs come in here with some behavior problems and issues that keep them from getting adopted. We have everything from extreme shyness, to dog aggression, to fear.
“They just need consistency, and this environment provides an extremely consistent atmosphere,” she said.
McIntosh said they work hard to get the dogs adopted.
“Ideally, we want to get them adopted,” she said. “We want to help as many dogs as possible.”
Inmate Jim Isbell said working with his yellow Labrador Marsh has changed his life for the better.
“He is a really special dog,” Isbell said. “It’s been great, except for the slobbering and snoring. No, he’s great. He’s become my best buddy.”
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