What do you feel when you happen upon a neglected or abused dog? It seems you hear about so many unfortunate pets that live their lives at the end of a chain. They have little or no protection from the elements, infrequent food, limited access to clean water to survive — and worst of all — virtually no contact with their humans. For dogs it amounts to a life in solitary confinement. It’s pure torture for them.
Dogs are dependent upon people for survival. Not just food and water, but true social interaction between the species. Canines are the best mind readers of humans. They know everything we feel by studying our body language and most of them will respond accordingly. If you are sad or upset from having a bad day, Fido will intuitively understand and come sit at your feet, put his head on your lap and gaze at you with the sincerest of loving eyes.
What makes some people disrespect that amazing bond? Ignorance perhaps, or maybe they feel pleasure by inflicting suffering on another living being. How many times can a person walk or drive by such a sight and just do nothing? Maybe it’s a fear of getting involved or inability to confront a difficult and uncomfortable situation. Yet, some people do take action.
An Idea is Born
Jim Conroy — a lifetime animal lover — saw these types of situations frequently on his way to and from work as the Special Investigative Supervisor at Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NEOCC) in Youngstown, Ohio, and it broke his heart. As a long time Care2 member Jim came up with an idea to do something about it.
Through his years of experience in law enforcement and volunteer work in the animal welfare community, Jim knew that Ohio laws are too ineffective to keep an outside dog safe. After all, the process of changing laws moves about as quickly as the state of inertia. So he came up with an idea that could provide shelter for those animals to make their burden a little more bearable.
Jim formulated a plan to have prison inmates make dog shelters and presented it to his supervisor, NEOCC Warden Michael Pugh, who fully supported the idea. Besides being great for the local community, the program is designed to teach inmates carpentry skills which they can use once they leave prison.
Darryl Heavrin, Carpentry Instructor at NEOCC says, “The individuals that participate in this program are extremely happy to provide shelter for animals that are in dire need.”
Inmates work about 3 hours per day, 3-5 days per week on doghouse construction.
“Many of the inmates participating are true dog lovers…this program is a good opportunity for inmates to express this affection,” said Heavrin. He adds that this program stops inmate idleness and prevents them from getting into altercations while in general population of the prison.
The doghouses used in this doghouse project are constructed according to PETA standards. The cost of each doghouse is about $250 in materials if purchased at retail. However, by partnering with the local Home Depot located in Boardman, Ohio, Store Manager Thomas “Buddy” Colley allows NEOCC to obtain the treated wood and other materials at a reduced cost. Labor is provided by the inmates and each doghouse takes about 3 to 4 hours to build.
NEOCC then donates the doghouses to local animal agencies for distribution to chained dogs living in deplorable conditions whom owners will not surrender and whom the animal control officers can’t remove because the laws aren’t strong enough to allow it. Straw, light-weight tie outs and a dog collar are also donated with each doghouse, also courtesy of NEOCC.
Jim hopes for the day when dogs are no longer allowed to be chained outside for their entire lives but until that day comes, “These houses will improve the dog’s quality of life by protecting them from the wind, hail, rain, heat, snow and bitter cold,” Jim told Care2.
Another Idea is Born
Jim’s original idea to have inmates in the Carpentry Program at NEOCC — a Corrections Corporation of America facility — build safe and secure dog houses with quality materials and donate them to local humane organizations to give to those dogs in need, quickly extrapolated to helping not just family dogs, but situations in counties where Animal Control Officers (ACO) are not always available 24/7 to investigate a complaint.
When that occurs, the police have to respond. Ordinarily, police departments do not have kennels in which to keep dogs that need to be removed from dangerous situations. So the dog gets left behind which puts their life at further risk until an Animal Control Officer can begin investigating, sometimes taking hours or even days.
Jim had an idea to solve that. He again worked with Home Depot Manager “Buddy” Colley to allow police departments to purchase AKC kennels at cost, thus allowing a kennel to be placed on the police department premises with a doghouse inside.
Jim also partnered with local Boy Scout Troop 60, lead by Scout Master Byron Harnishfeger, to have the scouts assemble the AKC kennels and paint the doghouses for police departments. Jim reports, “These doghouses and kennels can aid police departments in the handling of animal calls in the following ways:”
1. Police departments can now immediately remove an animal from a situation and will no longer have to leave an animal behind or wait for the animal control officers to meet them at the call location. This is especially helpful after regular business hour calls.
2. Police departments can immediately remove a dog/animal from a bad situation due to weather, neglect, abuse, lost or stray.
3. This takes the dog or animal out of immediate danger, provides a safe place for the animal back at the department, and frees up the officers to continue to handle calls without having to re-check on the animal or to answer continuous calls for service/complaints from neighbors/citizens about the dog or animal.
4. This can also be used by officers when an individual who has been arrested has a dog or animal with them.
5. In addition, it can be used by officers when handling car accidents and the animal owner has to be taken to the hospital.
6. It can also be useful if a domestic violence/abuse victim won’t remove themselves from the situation because they are afraid to leave their pet at home.
The Ideas Keep On Coming
Jim also works as a part time police officer and realized the dog houses for police departments to use in conjunction with a kennel run can make a huge difference for K-9 officers as well. This can actually save lives because working K-9s are usually kept in patrol cars with the engine running when officers are not present.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of police dogs being killed by the heat when, unbeknownst to the officers, the engine fails. So the dog houses and kennels located on the department grounds can double as a place for the K-9 to relax while the officer is inside the police station.
A Look to the Future
The initial budget allocated by NEOCC for this doghouse project was $500 per month. It has since been increased to $1,000 monthly. Amazingly 15 – 20 doghouses are produced per month, and since February about 70 doghouses have been made and donated.
Jim is expanding the program to other counties and communities in Ohio, as well as other states with the ultimate goal of hoping to see other prisons or businesses across the nation do the same for their communities. Currently, a total of 11 police departments and animal organizations have benefited from this project with more already interested in getting involved.
Not one to be single-minded, Jim is also in the process of working with domestic abuse shelters to provide similar doghouses and pens for victims who are reluctant to leave a beloved family pet behind. Now that’s a great idea!
What You Can Do to Help
Please spread the word of this remarkable program to humane agencies and police departments in your area. Whether labor is provided by prison inmates or scout troupes and other volunteer organizations, the final outcome for a pet in need is the most important part. Be pro-active and encourage any volunteer group you are associated with or know of to join this cause.
Jim can be contacted at James.Conroy@cca.com for anyone interested in helping with this program or who would like mentoring in setting up a similar program in their own community.