Puppies in Prison

January 2005

Editor: OK, so who’d be mean enough to put a puppy in prison? What did the poor puppy do? The answer may surprise you.

This article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Post and is reprinted with their permission.

Puppies in prison – Inmates train dogs to serve in the outside world
By Roy Wood

Post staff reporter

Maybe it was the array of tattoos on John Brewer’s arms.

Maybe it was the blue denim shirt and dark blue dungarees that served as his prison uniform.

Maybe it was the rough edge in his voice — possibly a by-product of more than two decades behind bars.

For whatever reason, Brewer seemed too tough to be caressing the 4-month-old wiggling ball of fur on the floor outside one of the Warren Correctional Institution offices.

Brewer, 41, formerly of Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood, is one of two dozen inmates at the 1,035-men prison who trains puppies for the Warren County Humane Association and 4 Paws for Ability.

He’s currently training a German Shepherd pup named Mia to be a service dog.

When he trains pups for the Humane Association, they learn basic obedience and are sent back to the shelter for adoption.

When he trains them for 4 Paws, he helps prepare service dogs that help people who are deaf, have seizures, autism or conditions that require them to use wheelchairs.

“I have 22 years in (prison),” Brewer says, who is serving a 21 1/2-year-to life term for aggravated murder, burglary, B&E and aggravated robbery.

“I’ve done 80 percent of my time in maximum security or super max institutions.

“And most of that was in a cell in segregation, locked down 23 hours out of 24 hours,” he said. “So when I came here to the (campus-style high-security prison) and I seen dogs and trees and stuff, it was a big shock.”

But he grew up around dogs and knew immediately he wanted a dog.

He’s trained about a dozen dogs in the past two years.

The story was somewhat the same for Frank Jenkins, of Dayton, Ohio, who is serving a four-year stretch for robbery.

“I’ve had dogs about all my life,” says Jenkins, whose current dog, Zeke, is also a Lab.

“I thought it would be pretty neat to have a dog.”

Zeke is Jenkins’ seventh puppy since December 2002.

WCI inmates have been training Humane Association “shelter dogs” since 1998 when officials for the society asked prison officials to help train dogs so they would be more adoptable. 4 Paws started helping with shelter dog training in 1999

Inmates have been training service dogs for 4 Paws since April.

The 4 Paws organization, which has more traditional training programs in addition to the prison program, has placed many dogs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, but no 4 Paws service dogs have gone from the prison yet to a local family.

The service dogs learn specialized tasks such as tracking if they’re being assigned to someone with autism — because kids who live with the disorder tend to wander away. Or barking or getting help if someone goes into seizures.

Mobility-assistance dogs pick things up off the floor and open doors for people in wheelchairs. Many dogs even put laundry in the washer and take it out of the drier. Other dogs learn other specialized tasks.

Brewer says he spends about 40 minutes every morning working on basic obedience, then spends about a half hour in the afternoon on more specialized training.

Jenkins says he works with his dog for 15 or 20 minutes at various times throughout the day.

The dogs are trained to meet the specific needs of those who request them, says Karen Shirk, who has a mobility assistance dog and founded 4Paws.

The process of matching dog to human begins when a person comes to 4 Paws with a need.

The organization then begins looking for the dog that has the right personality to learn specific tasks. “When we first get the dogs, they’re not matched to children,” said Shirk. “But by the time they’re 4 or 5 months old, they’re matched, and the inmates know what the child’s needs are.”

In the prison, inmates can teach service dogs the basics. Trainers from 4 Paws go to the prison, twice a week to help.

When the inmates have completed their work, 4 Paws trainers take the dogs into public places to refine the training in more true-to-life settings.

“The inmates do a wonderful job. It’s amazing,” Shirk says. “If it weren’t for the need for socialization in stores and stuff, the dogs would be ready to go.”

The program is good for the inmates, says Assistant to the Warden Richard Jesko: “It’s a good way to get inmates to comply with the rules.”

“A lot of inmates want to be dog handlers,” he says. “But we’ve got some inmates who will constantly get into trouble. Once they figure out, ‘If I stay out of trouble and don’t violate any rules, there’s a possibility I can get a dog.’ That’s good for us,” Jesko says.

Brewer, in fact, was “rather difficult” when he first got to Warren Correctional, Jesko says. “Now I think he’s turned out to become one of our best dog handlers.”

Training the pups gives inmates the chance to give something to society, says Brewer.

“Most of us (in prison), we’ve been takers,” says Brewer. “When we was in the world we took stuff. In here, it ain’t much different. But for me (raising puppies) is to give something back. I’m doing it for the kid and the dog,” Brewer says.

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