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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Reflections on the New Year

The start of a new year is a moment to reflect on the changes we want to make with the goal of self-improvement or, even better, doing good for others. We’ve put together some suggestions of our own that you may want to incorporate into your list of resolutions—most are quite easy and offer great rewards in return—for both you and your dog.

Know Your Dog In and Out
Give your dog a daily weekly and monthly “check up”—clean ears, clip nails, trim fur (where needed), brush teeth, flea combing (should be broken down into daily, weekly and monthly things to do). See Dr. Shea Cox’s tips on self-examinations.

Get caught up on learning more about dogs—who they are, why they do what they do and why they are our oldest friends—books like Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash, Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog and Gregory Berns’ How Dogs Love Us are stand outs.

Exercise Mind and Body
Teach a new trick or polish up an old one.

Enroll your dog in an activity class, agility, flyball, rally-o, nosework—there are many to consider.

Do short enrichment episodes with your dog throughout the day such as hiding treats or pieces of kibble.

Take long walks with your dog, but use that as an occasion to also extend training by calling to her often, rewarding spot-on recalls. Short re-enforcement sessions are key.

All dogs love play and as Patricia McConnell reminds us “just because a dog doesn’t play fetch doesn’t mean you can’t play together.” Start off by mimicking your dog’s play bow, and the fun will follow.

Stay Focused
Remember that while it is fun to meet friends at a dog park, your dog, and her activities, should always come first. Don’t get so involved in a conversation that you don’t know what your dog is up to, or let her feel that you are not paying attention. Put away the cell phone while out with her too.

Good Eats
Resolve to cook or prepare at least one “homemade” meal a week for your dog—start off by making delicious toppings to add to your dog’s meals. Easy to do, and a great introduction to cooking for canines.

Deep Petting
Massage your dog, not only do they love the attention, but it feels good for them and you, gets canine and human endorphins juiced up.

Make New Friends
Think of fostering or adopting a shelter dog—if you are a one-dog family, not only will your dog enjoy the company, but you can both help socialize the shelter dog. Or think of sponsoring a shelter dog, for very little you can help defray the costs of spaying/neutering, vaccinations, chipping, etc. Or, simply help to walk shelter dogs, they need human attention! Interaction with a human was found to reduce stress levels, a positive effect that came after sessions of 30 minutes or less.

Dog's Life: DIY
Wrap It Up


While dogs would be happy to have their gift treats piled on the floor in front of them, their human companions will appreciate a more thoughtful presentation.

This year, try the traditional Japanese art of wrapping gifts in fabric squares—furoshiki—as an attractive and functional way to reduce paper waste. Not only is this an eco-sensitive option, the fabric can be put to other uses, doubling the gift.

 

For furoshiki wrapping directions, watch this video or download the PDF, which was created by the helpful folks at the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.

 

Dog's Life: DIY
DIY Project Handy Tugger Toy
A homemade toy to enjoy.

Crafty dog lovers will find lots to inspire them in Mike Spears’ new book, Silly Dog Toys, which includes 12 easy projects. Safety first: Spears notes that it’s important to use materials that have not been soiled or coated with toxic substances, and that it’s also essential to supervise your pup’s play—or better yet, play with her. We couldn’t agree more! The Handy Tugger will satisfy the toughest of tuggers. Use different types of gloves for the tugger ends. You can also vary the tube, using socks or other materials. If you have two or more dogs, they’ll certainly learn quickly what the tugger is all about.

Materials
Fabric (12" x 9")
Gloves (2)
Toy squeakers (2)
Stuffing
Elastic (1.5" x 12")

Tools
Scissors
Sewing machine
(optional)
Needle & thread
Pins

Directions
1. Create a sleeve, starting with a piece of material 12"x 9". Fold the piece in half to 12"x 41/2", right sides together. Sew the long edges together, 1/4" from the edge. Turn the piece inside out.

2. Insert a 4" length of elastic into the sleeve and sew it 1/4" from one edge.

3. Stuff the sleeve lightly with batting, surrounding the elastic.

4. Find the free end of the elastic. With your free hand, push back the sleeve and batting until the edges of the sleeve and elastic are aligned.

5. Pin together the sleeve edges and elastic, 1" from the edge. Sew the elastic to the sleeve 1/4" from the edge.

6. Stuff both gloves with batting and add a squeaker in the palm of each glove. Stuff the thumbs and fingers fully and the palms about three-quarters full.

7. Remove pins from the sleeve. Insert a sleeve end into one of the gloves. Sew the sleeve inside the glove 1/2" inside the glove cuff. Repeat for the other glove. (Double-check to be sure all pins have been removed.)

8. Tug away!

News: Editors
Naptime Puppy Love

If this already isn’t the newest viral sensation, it soon will be. Nothing cuter than a young child and pup sleeping together!

Jessica Shyba, mother of three, blogs about her newest “child,” a pup her family adopted from the Santa Cruz SPCA. As she writes:

“Big Bird—as he was named at the shelter—was the shyest of them all to meet us, though he bounded instantly into [my son] Beau's lap as soon as he entered their pen. The look on his little furry face was enough to seal the deal for me, we had met our newest family member."

The pup, who has been renamed Theo, has also become the co-star of an adorable photo series on her Instagram account, and appears to have settled into his new home, especially with Beau, his new naptime companion, quite nicely.

Shyba writes that these naps have turned into "what I can only describe as the most organic and beautiful friendship I have ever witnessed." But her other two children also relish their new bro.

News: Editors
Are Emotional Support Dogs on Planes Causing a Backlash?

There is a front page story today in the New York Times about emotional support dogs on planes, and how many people seem to be gaming the system. It is obviously a very touchy subject for dog lovers. But one that needs serious addressing. Should rules regarding emotional support dogs (different from assistance/service dogs for blind or physically disabled people) be re-examined? This article dealt specifically with plane travel, which allows emotional support animals to fly free. Those animals (not just dogs) are not restricted to a crate and are even allowed to sit on their guardian’s lap, unlike other animals who must fit under-the-seat in a carrier, and for which a fee is charged on most airlines.

Robert Farr of the Pacific A.D.A. Center explained that, “The Air Carrier Access Act allowed for emotional support animals to be taken on planes, broadening the American Disabilities Act, which recognized service animals in public places.” Little (or no) proof of their status is required. And as the article points out, there seem to be many who are flaunting the guidelines.

Is this a problem? According to Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week, it is becoming a big one.

“I’ve seen people bring on pets and try to pass them off as an emotional support or service dog. It’s not appropriate and it’s not safe.”

Ms. Davis, who uses a wheelchair, flies about once a month, along with a service dog, for her job as a health and human services consultant.

She goes on to note:

“Honestly, I understand that there’s some value that people need an emotional assistance dog. But I think a lot of this is that people love their dogs and think they feel like if you have your dog, why can’t I have mine?” Airline workers echo Ms. Davis’s view. “It’s out of control,” said an American Airlines flight attendant, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.

Not only are there psychotherapists who provide the necessary “prescriptive” paperwork, but online stores that sell service dog vests to anyone. Like one in Southern California who the Times spoke with who is willing to offer certification papers for a one-hour $99 phone/Skype call.

I know a few people without legitimate issues who do this as well, like a couple with two 70 lb. dogs who wear such vests. Their dogs are extremely well trained but, to me, that isn’t the issue. They simply prefer that their dogs fly in the cabin with them and not in the cargo, an understandable sentiment, but one that doesn’t give consideration to other passengers, including those with service animals or those with animal allergies.

The comments to this article are interesting, especially when addressing the needs of those with severe allergies. Unfortunately their rightful concerns could also impact other guide/service animals—with stale cabin air being recycled, it is hard not to take into consideration the pet dander allergy issue. One commenter suggested that those with severe allergies should also be accorded “ADA” status, warranting special consideration too.

But there is also the fact that airlines are charging more and more for things that use to be standard for the cost of a plane tickets, baggage, roomier seating, snacks etc., so it was suggested that if they started to charge for emotional support dogs (like they do with “carry-on” dogs), perhaps they would see a reversal in the popularity of misusing the system. Or as another commenter noted,

“When airlines are able to provide a more humane way for our pets to travel on an airplane, i.e. a secured heated in winter/air conditioned in summer section in the cargo area, where the crates are also secured and not dumped in with luggage, etc., when airlines stop asking vets to sign waivers that say if your pet comes out the other end of the flight like a frozen Popsicle or overheated Pizza Pocket and not breathing, when pets do not escape due to negligence on the part of the airline employees, who are not specifically trained to handle animals, are trained properly to do so and in fact have dedicated jobs for only this function, than I would love to be able to relinquish my beloved dog to the airline and get on the plane! with some level of peace of mind.”

Are there really that many people who are abusing the system who, in turn, are making it more difficult for others to bring their service dogs with them? Perhaps an example of how this might be affecting the attitude of crewmembers too comes from a story reported yesterday in the New York Post about a blind man, Albert Rizzi and his guide dog Doxy, who were booted off a US Airways plane by TSA guards.  As the story goes:

“The 9-year-old Lab was under his seat, Rizzi said, but the loving pooch got restless as the plane sat for 90 minutes on the runway before the scheduled hour-long flight at 8:30 p.m.

“My dog had been under the seat for an hour and a half, and he needed to be near me, touch me,” Rizzi told The Post. “This is the relationship between a guide dog and his handler.”

But there is great twist to this story when other passengers voiced their support to Rizzi.

 “After he [Rizzi] was removed, people on board began to voice their opinion,” said passenger Carl Beiner, a 43-year-old construction manager. “Everyone was saying, ‘You’re 100-percent wrong.’ There was not a single person backing the stewardess. Every single person on that flight was behind the blind guy.”

“When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem. What is going on?’ ” Passenger Frank Ohlhorst told Philadelphia TV stations. “The captain came out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft.”

Obviously, one hopes that is an extreme example on how easy it is to fray nerves while sitting in a plane for hours on a runway, and one that the management of US Airways agrees was a severe overreaction by the crew.

As for the broader issue of support dogs being accorded the same status as guide dogs, and how this leads to misusing the system, is this perhaps an example of a good idea gone bad? Is it time to reexamine the certification process? Is more accountability in order? We would love to get your thoughts.

 

 

Culture: DogPatch
Bark’s Best Places to Work presented by Zuke’s
Top winners for 2013 (left to right) Midland School, Los Olivos, Calif.; PrintingForLess, Livingston, Mont.; and KolbeCo, O’Fallon, Mo.

We received hundreds of entries to our 2013 Best Places to Work contest from all across the country. We heard from two-person shops and large corporations who are dedicated to dog-friendly workplaces. We were introduced to a resident dog at a Hawaiian dental office who helps soothe jittery patients; we met shop dogs at bakeries (Momofuku Milk Bar in NYC) and a glassblowing studio (Glassybaby in Washington state), a rescue dog/mascot at a distillery (Tito’s Handmade Vodka) in Texas, several technology/internet firms (Advent, The Nerdery) and a handful of manufacturers (Jones Soda, Bissell). While each company had a great story to tell, three entries stood out, earning Bark’s special recognition and a year’s worth of Zuke’s delectable treats.

Midland School, Los Olivos, Calif.
24 Staff, 80 Students, 20 dogs

Midland is a college preparatory boarding school for 9th- to 12th- graders in California’s beautiful rural Santa Ynez Valley. Students in good academic standing—with permission from the faculty and from their roommates—can bring a dog or other pet to campus. Faculty are also allowed to bring their pets to campus.

The Midland dogs attend classes, watch soccer games from the sidelines, sleep on library couches and help herd the resident cattle. Dogs even play a role in academic research. Midland’s statistics class conducts an annual mathematical analysis of daily dog wanderings. Students attach GPS units to the collars of several dogs and track their movements around campus over the course of several days.

Dogs are so integral to the culture of Midland School that Headmaster Will Graham’s 2011 graduation speech centered around their importance: “An animal can teach a person to focus on the simple things … the important things … to care for and love something other than ourselves, to pick up a mess that we did not make, and to play. They reassure us, keep us from being restless, help us be practical and grounded, and make us smile.” He named the dogs alongside the graduating seniors when he issued diplomas.

PrintingForLess, Livingston, Mont.
170 Employees, 25 Dogs
PrintingForLess is the nation’s first commercial online print company. Almost from its start, it allowed dogs, the first being Jessie, belonging to CEO Andrew Field. Many more followed, and around 15 percent of the workers now take advantage of this policy. Their headquarters was designed to be dog-friendly, with concrete floors and a trail system around the building. The grounds also have a waterfall and a pond system that the dogs love to swim in. All dogs are interviewed, and must be housetrained and abide by the company’s official dog policy, which includes prohibitions against aggressive or disruptive behavior. Participating employees must sign a waiver of responsibility. The policy includes a “three strikes and you’re out” rule. Employees and their dogs also have access to five acres of wetlands. The company’s weekly Friday socials have included canine agility demonstrations, dog training sessions and costume parties.

KolbeCo, O’Fallon, Mo.

7 Employees, 6 Dogs
You needn’t be a large company to have an impact, and KolbeCo Marketing Resources near St. Louis, Mo., is proof. The number of employees in this public relations agency is nearly matched by the number of dogs. KolbeCo not only welcomes their employees’ dogs, but also supports staff involved in Stray Rescue of St. Louis’s foster parent program by allowing the foster dogs daily access as well. What distinguishes the KolbeCo staff is their dedication to serving their community. For five years, they have produced an annual donation drive, Frills For Furbabies, benefiting Stray Rescue of St. Louis. They collect much-needed supplies, which have exceeded $20,000 in value. The firm also donates professional services to another local shelter—5 Acres—helping create promotional material. And, they manage to have a good time, designating their dogs as the Board of Dogrectors that helps “drive” their philanthropic activities.

2014 Best Places to Work Contest kicks off September 1.

News: Editors
Cats Stealing Dog Beds

Just in case you missed the newest youtube sensation of cats who just love to steal or bogart dog beds, and the ingenious maneuvers that dogs go through trying to get their beds back—give this a look. I love it that most of the cats seem nonplus by the "attention" they are getting from their dog pals. Really cool cats.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Howard & Erna Soldan Dog Park
Dog Park Case Studies

Description: This jewel of an Off Leash Area (OLA) comprises 15 acres in a woodland landscape, with open fields, shady trails and a large pond. It opened in September 2007, and is owned by the city of Lansing but maintained cooperatively with the Ingham County Parks Department. The park is enclosed by a six-foot fence, and has permeable, sandy soil and easy access to the pond, which is its central feature.

History: What’s unusual about this park is how it started. According to Ellen Sullivan, past president of the Friends of Greater Lansing Dog Parks (Friends), the idea came from thenparks department director Murdock Jemerson. After attending a recreation conference in early 2001 at which dog parks were a hot topic, he tested community interest for them in Lansing. The possibility was eagerly greeted by local dog lovers, and more than 100 people attended the first meeting. It received overwhelming support, and volunteer committees were quickly formed; a more formal Friends group came soon after. It took six years to bring the park into existence.

Financing: To help raise the $100,000 needed for the park’s development, the Friends group established itself as a 501c(3) nonprofit. Extremely well organized, the group developed annual strategic plans and was able to raise significant capital through many inventive fundraising approaches— among them, offering naming rights to the individual or business making the most substantial donation. Those rights went to a local store, Soldan’s Feed and Pet Supplies, which pledged $50,000. Other donors and sponsors came in at various levels, and their names are enshrined on the park’s sponsor board.

Hurdle: Getting the city council to change the ordinance that required dogs to be on-leash in city parks. According to Sullivan, “that took over a year in itself.” Ultimately, the law was amended to permit dogs to be off-leash in designated dog parks. Neighbors also mounted roadblocks. When the park first opened it had 17.5 acres, but after a few complaints, it was downsized to 15, sacrificing a full loop trail and a small-dog area.

Stand-out Feature: In 2010, Soldan adopted a fee-based use system, an approach that many communities, especially in the wake of the recession, have considered but few have implemented. Income from this system has helped defray operational costs such as the purchase of poop bags and portable restrooms, and routine park maintenance. To receive the electronic pass card, owners must provide proof that their dogs are current on their rabies vaccination and are licensed; they are also required to verify that they have read the park’s rules and will abide by them. The annual “key fob” fee is $30, or $15 for students, seniors, military and service-dog owners.

Rules & Regs: Park manager Brian Collins told us that, as is common with many OLAs, “Once the park was established, the Friends group became less involved in the day-to-day operations.” However, the original volunteer community built a strong foundation and provided useful guidelines and rules that are still in use. In fact, their “Getting Ready for the Dog Park” handout—covering (among other things) where to play fetch and cautions against crowding around entrance areas—is one of the most thorough instructional guides we have seen.

What’s Next: Under discussion are improvements such as a ramp for water-loving dogs, a bridge or “floating walkway” to create a loop within the park, trail lighting and paving. Carole Living, long-time park user and supporter, believes that this park “is a place where dogs can run free, swim all they want, investigate all the exotic scents and just be a natural dog. It enriches all our lives.” She also thinks a new user campaign to spread the word should be considered; Lansing is a college town with a high population turnover, and reminders that Soldan Dog Park beckons are needed!

If you would like to recommend a dog park, write to editor@thebark.com and use “dog park” in the subject line.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Blessing of the Animals [Slideshow]
Photos of NYC Church's celebration of the Feast of St. Francis the Assisi
Dog's Life: Humane
Animals Among the Inmates
A Louisiana prison’s shelter/adoption program.
Inmates staff the country’s only prison shelter

Drive along a narrow country road 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, La., the late-summer morning filtering through the leaves as you pass acres of cow pasture and a few small churches, and you’ll come across a white picket fence leading to the last thing you’d expect to find: a mediumsecurity prison. First comes the octagonal guard tower, peeking over the trees, then the blocky brick buildings and drab exercise yards enclosed by chain-link fencing topped with curly razor wire, 15 feet high. You’ve reached the Dixon Correctional Institute, home to 1,600 inmates whiling away everything from a few years to life. That’s where I found myself in early September 2012. I hadn’t come to visit the inmates. I’d come to see the cats and dogs.

When Hurricane Katrina barreled down on the Gulf Coast in 2005, hundreds of thousands of residents f led their homes, leaving their pets behind. Most weren’t being cruel—they left food and water and assumed they’d be back in a few days, as they had after previous storms. They didn’t realize that Katrina and the f loods that followed would devastate the region, demolishing homes, killing hundreds and drowning a city.

Fortunately, animal rescuers poured in from around the country, saving dogs on roofs, cats in attics and pets wandering homeless on the streets. They trucked them to emergency shelters throughout the area, including a massive triage operation that had been set up at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. The facility—a venue for livestock shows, horse exhibitions and rodeos—would become the epicenter of the largest animal rescue operation in U.S. history, staffed by hundreds of volunteers and veterinarians caring for the more than 8,000 animals salvaged from the storm. But as the weeks wore on, Lamar Dixon began to overf low. There was no space left to shelter the cats and dogs. They sat in cages in parking lots, and thousands were in danger of dying or becoming lost.

That’s when Jimmy LeBlanc got on the phone. Dixon Correctional’s warden, LeBlanc had recently lost his 17-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, and he wanted to do something good for pets. He offered the Humane Society of the United States, which was running Lamar Dixon at the time, some of the prison’s real estate. HSUS happily accepted. In the middle of the night, trucks began arriving, carrying hundreds of dogs and cats, plus a few geese, ducks and horses. The prison housed them in a former dairy barn just a mile from its main grounds. Volunteers from Lamar Dixon set up kennels and a makeshift clinic, and the prison sent over 12 convicts to help feed and walk the animals and clean cages. Injured, starving pets were nursed back to health, and most were eventually reunited with their owners. The arrangement worked out so well that HSUS decided to make it permanent. In 2007, it gave the prison a $600,000 grant to build a real shelter. It would be used in future disasters like Katrina, but also as an adoption center for the local community. I’d come to check it out.

When I arrive at the prison, I pull up to the guard gate. My rental car’s window is caked with bugs and its A/C is struggling to overcome the oppressive heat and humidity. Colonel John Smith meets me on the other side. A 23-year Department of Corrections veteran who has worked with police dogs for most of that time, he’s tan and solidly built, with a gray moustache and short, brown hair. He wears a blue uniform and cradles a large black walkie-talkie. “Did you have any trouble finding us?” he says in a mellow Southern accent.

Smith guides me inside the prison grounds, past a double gate that resembles a chain-link airlock. I’ve been among inmates before, but I’m still a bit uneasy. Suddenly, a tiny black-andwhite Rat Terrier runs up to us, yipping “Come here, you little tramp!” says Smith, hoisting the pup into his arms. It’s his dog Chirro, who comes to work with him every day. I begin to relax.

We enter the main shelter. Opened in 2010 on the fifth anniversary of Katrina and built on the site of a former chapel, it’s a white-brick building with a peaked roof that looks a bit like a squat bungalow. Inside, we’re greeted by Smith’s junior officer, Master Sergeant Wayne Aucoin. Thin and young, with a shaved head and a brown moustache slightly less bushy than Smith’s, he manages the day-to-day operations of the facility, and he’s eager to give me a tour. Despite the modest exterior, there’s a lot going on inside Pen Pals, as it’s known.

Aucoin shows me the surgical suite, with its metal exam table and anesthesia machine. There’s also a grooming area with a large sink, a computer room for tracking the animals who come in and out and an education alcove. Here, inmates can peruse a growing library of veterinary textbooks; learn, from posters on the wall, how to spot zoonotic diseases like roundworm; and try their hand at diagnosing parasitic infections with a microscope. A few prisoners buzz about as we tour. Wearing jeans and light-blue T-shirts with “DCI” in large orange letters down the side, they wash bowls and mop floors.

And, of course, there are the cats and dogs. Two rooms lined with metal cages can house about 30 felines. Today, there are a couple of longhaired orange kittens, a black cat missing an eye and a handful of others. Many are brought in by the inmates themselves from the prison’s tool sheds and exercise yards. “The fences don’t really keep them out,” Smith says. “They slip through them like the wind.” The dogs live in a long, narrow space f lanked by kennels. There’s room for about 60 of them, but right now there are just a few. Still, the barking is almost deafening as we pass.

All in all, it looks a lot like your average shelter. That’s a good thing because it’s the only one in all of East Feliciana, a rural parish of about 20,000 people. I ask Aucoin what happened to homeless cats and dogs before Pen Pals was set up. “They got shot,” he says matter- of-factly. These days, he tries hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. He posts each animal’s picture and story on Facebook. He drives them to the nearby town of Zachary every month to adopt them out in front of the town’s library. He even brings them to local rodeos. “You’d be surprised,” he says, “but we adopt a lot of dogs out that way.” A dog costs $40, but the cats are often free, donated to farmers as pest control. “A lot of people ’round here want them just for their barns.”

Aucoin doesn’t keep the shelter running by himself. That’s where the inmates come in; five currently work for Pen Pals. One of the many jobs they can take at the prison, it has one of the longest waitlists. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who want to do this,” says Smith. Only a select few pass muster, however. Those with a history of animal cruelty or sex crimes are ruled out. “We screen these convicts pretty close before we bring them in here.” Once inside, they clean litter boxes, walk dogs and assist with exams and surgeries carried out by visiting veterinarians and their students from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “The students are a little spooked when they first get here. You see it all over them,” laughs Smith. “But by the time they leave, they’re joking around with the convicts.”

After we tour the main facility, Smith and Aucoin lead me out the back door onto a wide, grassy yard f lanked by barbed-wire fencing. In the distance is a 10,000-square-foot pavilion with an open concrete floor and a steel roof. As we head over, Smith tells me that the inmates take the dogs to this field to walk them and teach them basic obedience. “Watch out for land mines!” he smiles.

The pavilion is filled with dozens of makeshift kennels. There are a few dogs here now—the structure serves as a quarantine area, and new arrivals stay here before they’re taken into the main building. But its main purpose is as an emergency shelter. When a storm like Katrina hits, inmates can quickly build hundreds of crates, providing housing for as many as 250 dogs and 100 cats. If needed, they can split the crates in half, doubling those numbers. There are also generators to run fans in case the prison loses power. During Hurricane Gustav in 2008, the pavilion housed 40 dogs and 30 cats. And last week, when Hurricane Isaac struck, Lamar Dixon sent a few animals over. The warden didn’t even have to contact them. “We got a call from someone saying, ‘Hey, can you take a couple of dogs?’” says Aucoin.

Running a shelter inside a prison has its advantages. The main perk, says Smith, is the free labor. “You’ve got all the workers you need, and you have 24-hour access to them.” By caring for the animals and building the shelter and pavilion themselves, the inmates stretched HSUS’s $600,000 grant much further than it would have otherwise gone. But the money ran out last year. Now Pen Pals is completely reliant on donations. “We do a lot of begging, borrowing and stealing,” says Smith. And when he says stealing, he isn’t joking. The shelter has been known to pilfer medical equipment from the prison infirmary. “Bandages, X-ray film, you name it,” laughs Smith. “People medicine ain’t too much different than dog medicine.”

To date, the shelter, which is no-kill, has adopted out more than 250 cats and dogs. It’s the only one of its kind in the country, and Smith says he’s had calls from sheriffs throughout the state asking how to set up something similar.

Pen Pals isn’t just helping animals. The vet students who volunteer here gain valuable experience in shelter medicine, which they can’t get at the university. Inmates learn skills they can apply when they get out; one has already lined up a job at an animal clinic, while another just completed a correspondence course to become a veterinary technician. Even those who don’t get jobs become better people, says Smith. “Working here humanizes them. It teaches them to think about something other than themselves. They’ll walk up and tell me, ‘I gotta let my dogs out for a walk.’ You can see they’re concerned about these animals.”

The parish has changed too. Now that there’s a shelter in the area, the locals are more likely to bring sick and homeless animals here instead of disposing of them by other means. “Yesterday, a woman called about a Labrador mix who had been tied up in a yard for a long time,” says Aucoin. “He was so skinny, he looked like a walking skeleton. John and I drove out and picked him up.”

All of this gives me a warm feeling, and as I drive out of the parking lot after shaking hands with Smith and Aucoin, I almost forget that I’ve spent the last two hours in a prison. Almost, that is, until a guard runs after me as I prepare to turn onto the road leading back to town. “Stop, stop!” she yells. I hit the brakes and roll down my window. “Sir,” she says, scanning my back seat for stowaways, “I’m going to need you to pop your trunk.”

For more information on Pen Pals, including how to donate to the shelter, check out its Facebook page: Pen Pals, Inc. Animal Shelter.

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