By Maleah Stringer
For The Herald Bulletin
The FIDO program was established in September 2008 when the 2nd Chance at Life Greyhound Prison Partnership pulled out of the Indiana Department of Correction in February of that year.
The Animal Protection League went into partnership with the National Greyhound Foundation for Indiana as a 501(c)(3) non-profit to run the program in five Indiana prisons.
I was excited to save the greyhounds and saw the inmates and prison as simply a means to an end. To be honest I didn’t like inmates very much — and they scared me to death. I was worried they would hurt our dogs.
The first time I went into the Correctional Industrial Facility at Pendleton with my greyhound Bella — so the offenders could meet a greyhound — I was so scared my knees were buckling. I had a panic attack when they didn’t get the gate open fast enough for me to leave.
I think I was babbling, “Let me out, let me out, LET ME OUT.” Hopefully it was not out loud, just the little voice in my head screaming. I had no idea what I was getting into and thanks to lots of mentoring and help from the Indiana Department of Correction (particularly the staff at the Correctional Industrial Facility), I learned (and still am learning) while being literally on the job.
Working in the prison with the offenders and our animals has very simply changed my life — it has made me a better person. It has become my passion. Unfortunately, back then, many donors who helped fund the Animal Protection League’s projects did not approve.
They did not understand the sheer beauty of the program and withdrew their financial support.
We lost 85 percent of our funding. I had $300 in the bank to take care of 16 greyhounds. I told my offenders that I was running out of money.
They decided with the help of the Correctional Industrial Facility to have a fundraiser for us. They raised over $3,000 and saved the program. As time has gone by, our supporters have come back and are proud of our prison programs. It’s taken a lot of columns talking about this and lots of speeches to make this shift. Somewhere along the way I have become an advocate for the offenders, not just our shelter animals.
When the greyhounds left, we submitted a proposal and it was approved for shelter dogs to be used instead. Since 2008 over 130 dogs have been saved by FIDO and countless inmates have been touched with the beauty of the human animal connection.
It is important to note that Superintendent Wendy Knight, (and prior to her, Superintendent Thomas Hanlon) and her staff at the Correctional Industrial Facility are incredibly supportive of the Animal Protection League and the work we do with their offenders.
They have made it their mission to help us with fund raisers that help support the programs we provide their offenders. We now have the 9 Lives shelter cat prison program and the Saving Max foster program as well as FIDO.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with Knight and her staff as well as to save these beautiful animals and see the power of their unconditional love and the effects it has on the offenders. It affects us all. It’s not just about the animals anymore.
Maleah Stringer is executive director of the Animal Protection League, 613 Dewey St., Anderson. She can be reached at 356-0900 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.