LEBANON, Ohio — I was the foster of Evie, the rescue dog who was killed in Warren Correctional Institution in late August.
I remain devastated by her death and struggle with my decision to place Evie in the Warren Correctional Prison Dog Program. While it ended tragically, I am attempting to place a positive where a negative lay. Not just for my Evie, but for all the dogs like her who are placed in this program and do not have a voice.
I am writing to disclose what I have learned about the Prison Dog Program in Ohio over the past month and a half and hopefully clear the air.
Initially after Evie’s death, I will not lie, I wanted all the prison dog programs shut down. I was so angry and hurt. Evie was part of my family and she was brutally killed. I couldn’t for the life of me understand what she could have ever done to deserve such an ending. She was such a sweetheart.
There seems to be many disagreements and questions over how the prison dog program should or should not be operated, who pays for what and who is in charge. The most important question to me remains: How could such a renowned program, built to have such positive outcomes, allowed Evie to die so brutally?
Here is what I learned.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections has no policies for the prison dog program. There are policies regarding other prison programs, though. There were administrative codes for the Nursery Program and for offender’s seeking early release when participating in the other prison programs, but as I searched through Ohio’s administrative codes for the dog program, again nothing.
How is it that the prison dog program, which involves another life, can run for about 30 years in Ohio with absolutely nothing in place? That is when I realized there had never been any protections for the dogs placed in ODRC’s care. I was a corrections officer myself for five years so I know the climate behind concrete walls. I just went cold.
Undeniably, there are many rescues, shelters and organizations that really want to participate in these programs to successfully re-home their dogs. In many instances they relied heavily on DRC’s for guidance on properly managing the programs and setting the ground work for their relationship. On the flip side to this, there are also so many prisons that want rescues, shelters and organizations to participate because it not only minimizes downtime for inmates — which is huge to a correction officer’s safety — but its operating costs are minimal.
There is no question that the prison dog program is reputed to be therapeutic for both dogs and inmates alike and is largely successful worldwide.
But my question regarding Evie still remained: How could she have died so brutally in such a wonderful program?
Since Evie’s death I have researched this program front to back. I eventually reached out to Sister Pauline Quinn to ask her these questions. Anyone in the prison dog program community knows she needs absolutely no introduction. Needless to say, the conversation started out well and her advice was basically if it is not running well to shut it down. I also got some good input on how she intended the program to be ran. Unfortunately, the conversation quickly turned when I told her about Evie and my intentions to ultimately put legislation in place to protect the dogs by pushing for Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to create a framework policy. Personally, I do not feel she understood the benefit in this, but rather that I was attempting to diminish her legacy by enhancing her program with a bunch of laws. Needless to say, I still respect her very much and all the work she has done and continues to do even at her age and deteriorating health. She is a truly astounding woman to say the very least.
But in keeping with my promise that Evie’s death not be in vain from my first interview, I reached out to various rescues for input which rendered both positive and negative feedback. I reached out to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections with my concerns for the lack of policies. I offered what I thought to be viable resolution by providing some basic framework using correction’s fundamentals modeled after – “care, custody and control.” Since I was a corrections officer at one time and have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, I thought myself mildly educated in the matter, felt confident in making my suggestions.
I reached out to the Humane Society of the United States for some guidance and to our state legislators in an effort to push for legislation regarding the prison dog program in Ohio.
I argued that when ODRC rolled out the prison dog program in the 1990’s it never created policies specifically tailored to the prison dog program providing protections to the dogs placed in its care. By doing this, each prison in Ohio is permitted to run the prison dog program how it liked for the past 30 years! Unlike ODRC’s prison nursery program which started in 2001 in Marysville Correctional, there were already policies in place and legislation to match which ensured some form of protection to the infants placed in ODRC’s care. A stark comparison of two programs, both of which involve another life behind the confines but only one was fully developed before it was actually rolled out. Both programs rely heavily on ODRC for ensuring the life placed in their custody was and is always safe.
This is basically how we are able to see the same prison dog program, running in the same state but having vastly different outcomes.
Fortunately, it does seems ODRC is receptive to restructuring and creating policies in an attempt to make some changes that will provide a safer environment for the dogs placed in its care. The brutality of Evie’s death has caused much attention to descend upon ODRC and this is its best opportunity to be a vanguard, not only for other states but around the world. To me personally, I would love something positive to come from something so painful. There’s no better way to honor Evie or any loved one than in that way.
I ask rescues, shelters and organizations that participate in these programs not to point fingers, blast or argue about the right and wrong way to run the prison dog program. While some aspects of the program rests with solely you, some aspects rests with the DRC, too:
• To not scatter the dogs all over the compound around other offenders who do not qualify for the program
• To ensure no violent or sexually-oriented offenders participate.
• To conduct welfare checks on the dogs all as a matter of safety.
I implore you all to reach out to one another, help each other and learn from this tragedy.
This is ultimately a good program, but it is one that needs teamwork to ensure its longevity in Ohio. That will only happen after some protections are made for those who cannot ask for it them themselves.
Reach Katherine Hartung at firstname.lastname@example.org