Humane Society stops animal programs at Lima prison

By J Swygart -

LIMA — The Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Allen County Humane Society have terminated animal programs at the Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution, to the dismay of prison officials.

For several years the Humane Society brought dogs — and more recently, cats — to the Lima prison to interact with inmates. During a 10-week canine program, inmates worked with dogs that were brought once a week to the prison in an effort to better prepare the animals for adoption from the local animal shelter.

Cats, frequently kittens who had been orphaned or otherwise discarded, were bottle-fed or cared for by inmates until they were ready for adoption.

But an incident in late August at the Warren Correctional Institute in Lebanon — one in which a dog that was part of that prison’s programming was found dead in an inmate’s cell — has caused the SPCA-Allen County Humane Society to rethink similar programs offered at the Allen-Oakwood facility.

Noah Turner, shelter director of the Ohio SPCA-Humane Society shelter in Lima, confirmed Tuesday that animal programming at the Lima prison has been terminated.

“We will not be returning; all animals have been removed from the prison,” Turner said in a telephone interview.

“I had concerns about security at the prison, and I was going to pull the program several months ago,” Turner said. “Then I sat in on one of the (training) sessions and I felt a lot more comfortable with it. But after the incident in Warren, things changed. If (a dog being killed) can happen at another facility, it could certainly happen here.

“I don’t feel comfortable with our animals being out there (at the prison). I don’t feel it’s the right environment for us to be putting animals in and, frankly, I don’t believe our animals came back to us any better off” than they were prior to entering the prison program, Turner said.

According to Cori Smith, deputy warden of special services at Allen-Oakwood, inmates selected to participate in the programs were “screened closely” before being allowed to pair with the animals.

“This has been therapeutic for the inmates who participated in the programs. We’ve seen a positive effect on them,” said Smith. She said the SPCA’s decision to end the animal programs will be “very upsetting” to those inmates.

Despite the incident at the Lebanon prison, Smith said three-quarters of Ohio’s prisons — excluding high-security locations — continue to maintain active animal programs that feature interaction between inmates and the four-legged participants. She said officials with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction are currently reviewing policies and programs as they pertain to animals in prisons.

Smith is hopeful alternatives can be found to continue animal programming at Allen-Oakwood.

“We enjoyed the partnership we had with the humane society. We are saddened by their decision,” said Smith. “We reached out to them and expressed our love for the programs and as far as we are concerned we wanted to keep the programs going.”

By J Swygart

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