In 2006 the Animal Protection League and the National Greyhound Foundation, out of Florida, formed a partnership to be the pilot program in Indiana for the Second Chance at Life Greyhound Prison Program. The National Greyhound Foundation's director, Beverly Sebastian, hired me to run her program in five Indiana prisons.
We had watched her promotional video about the program and we all fell, hook line and sinker. We all had greyhounds, loved greyhounds, wanted to save greyhounds and this seemed like an answer to our prayers. Except we kind of forgot we had to go in the prison and work with the inmates. It all started off as simply a way to save these precious dogs. The inmates were simply a means to an end. In the beginning, that is.
I knew about as much about working with inmates and the Indiana Department of Corrections system as I do brain surgery. Fortunately, the staff at the Correctional Industrial Facility took me under their wing and gave me a crash course. They were and continue to be wonderful to me and the Animal Protection League.
The first time I went "inside" I was scared witless. I had a panic attack when I heard the gate lock behind me and I couldn't get out. Beverly was watching me; not one to tolerate weakness, she told me she didn't think I had what it took.The inmates were watching as well, laughing at my feeble attempts to get out the locked gate while sweating profusely and gasping for air. Great first impression. I somehow found the courage to do this program and, in effect, changed my own life.
When they decided to concentrate the program in Florida, we made a proposal to use shelter dogs from our shelter in the Correctional Industrial Facility. The first shelter dogs went in in 2008. This expanded with the 9 Lives shelter cat prison program and the Saving Max prison foster program.
And through it all Tom McDonnell, an inmate dog handler, persevered. He was one of the offenders I knew I could count on. He loved the greyhounds and he loved the shelter dogs. Tom is an ex-offender who is doing his best to be a very different man than the one who was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
It is offenders like Tom who show me that this program does indeed change lives, that it matters and that animals have the power to heal. Tom got out of prison last year; I offered him a job at the Animal Protection League. He decided to go home to Illinois, where he got a job as a trucker. Two months ago Tom called and asked me if I would be willing to give him a chance, that he needed something to nourish his soul. Tom now works for the Animal Protection League. He is doing an excellent job for us.
Nobody is getting rich working at the Animal Protection League. I found a card in my mailbox from Tom. Thanking me for taking a chance on him, inside the card he had taped $100 bill. It was a donation; $50 for the Animal Protection League and $50 for Alternatives Inc, a women's and children's shelter here in Anderson. Just like the animals; maybe we can't save them all, but we certainly can help some save themselves.
Maleah Stringer is executive directior of the Animal Protection League, 613 Dewey St.,Anderson. She can reached at 765-356-0900 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.