Stephen Newman

RazorWire: You’re In The Doghouse by Stephen Newman

From time to time, I’ll be sharing articles that were printed in our prison newspaper, the RazorWire. Below is an article from December, 2017, about the dog program here at ICIO. (JPay doesn’t allow me to use semicolons, so parts of this article have been modified.)

You’re In the Doghouse Now
(by J. Brewster and S. Newman)

People sometimes refer to prison as ‘The Doghouse.’ If you are fortunate enough to live on either C-1 or C-2, that phrase takes on a whole new meaning.

C-1 houses dogs from the Clearwater County Humane Society, and C-2 houses dogs from the Lewiston County Animal Shelter. These dogs are brought here to be socialized and rehabilitated for reentry into society. Sound familiar? Fortunately, for the dogs, their ‘sentence’ is only eight weeks long. And in that time, amazing things can happen.

Some of these dogs have come from abusive homes. Some were just abandoned. Others were turned over because their owners couldn’t cope wth them anymore. The circumstances of their arrival don’t matter. What matters is the end result.

Once they arrive, the dogs are delivered into the capable hands of an elite group of dog handlers, hand-selected by Lieutenant Johnson. Johnson, who is a Master K-9 trainer, created the dog program three years ago at the behest of the Warden. He reviews each applicant’s history, including background checks, clinical evaluations, and institutional behavior. A dog handler doesn’t just have to work well with the dogs — he has to be a good fit with the team, and be able to trust and look out for the other team members. In doing so, each handler can learn to overcome his own issues and reduce his chances of coming back to prison.

Veteran dog handler Benjamin Ratto had this to say about the dog program: “I love working with the dogs. It’s fun. I absolutely love it.”

That the dogs benefit from the program is obvious. These dogs are shown love and affection and are given the opportunity to show love in return. After their training, they should be able to go into any home, have any well-meaning person take the leash, and be the perfect family dog. And in the end, according to Lt. Johnson, in the three year history of the program, not a single dog has ever been returned after being adopted.

People are sent to prison because they have been deemed a threat to society. This program gives society a chance to reclaim men who have changed for the better, men who have learned to think of others first, and men who have learned that there is meaning in giving back and being helpful.

When asked about the dog program as a whole, Johnson said, “Any program that changes a person for the better is a good program.” Those lucky enough to be in the dog program get to experience the joy of giving back. They get to share in the sense of normalcy that comes with having a dog. They have a companion that loves them. It’s sometimes as simple as that.

Stephen Newman
DOC #90843

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