November 2, 2012

Dogs, prisoners and assisted living residents enrich one another’s lives

Joe Bocard, a resident of the Villas at Guerin Woods in Georgetown, feeds a treat to Joe, a mixed-breed hound, as Jennifer Nalley, human resources manager, and Judy Foster, who runs a small-breed rescue program in Kentucky and southern Indiana, watch him make friends with the dog. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

Joe Bocard, a resident of the Villas at Guerin Woods in Georgetown, feeds a treat to Joe, a mixed-breed hound, as Jennifer Nalley, human resources manager, and Judy Foster, who runs a small-breed rescue program in Kentucky and southern Indiana, watch him make friends with the dog. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

GEORGETOWN—St. Francis of Assisi, said to have once tamed a wolf, would be delighted with the welcome given to two companion dogs that recently came to live at the Villas of Guerin Woods assisted living and skilled nursing facilities in Georgetown.

On Oct. 4, the feast day of the patron saint of animals, residents of one of the assisted living villas laughed as Joe, a black hound mix, chewed the stuffing out of a toy bear then looked up for approval.

As Joe went from one person to another, residents gave him commands to “come” or “sit” and rewarded him with treats.

Placement of the pet therapy dogs at Providence Self-Sufficiency Ministries, the 28-acre Floyd County campus operated by Guerin Inc., was the result of cooperation among several organizations.

Sherry Taylor, unit administrator at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Oldham County, Ky., runs the Camp Canine program. Selected inmates work with the dogs for four to six weeks of training before the animals are placed in permanent adoptive homes by the Oldham County Humane Society.

The prison program trains 12 dogs at a time, and the dogs accompany their trainers throughout the facility. In addition to enriching the lives of their eventual owners, the dogs reduce tension among the 1,100 inmates. The prison program started in May 2009, and 250 to 300 dogs have been successfully trained and adopted since then.

“The Humane Society puts the dogs’ pictures on their Facebook page,” Taylor said, “and the average adoption time is only two months.”

Volunteer Lisanne Mikan is the dog adoption coordinator for the society.

“We seek friendly, outgoing dogs,” she said. “We put them through our clinic, the vet treats them and our handlers assess them.”

The dogs are strays, abandoned or abused animals, “rescues” from puppy mills or from crowded shelters that would otherwise have to euthanize them.

Judy Foster, who runs a rescue program called Chelsea’s Legacy in Louisville, put Providence Sister Barbara Ann Zeller, president of Guerin Inc., in contact with the Oldham County Humane Society.

“This has been a dream of Sister Barbara’s for a long time,” Foster said. “I’m glad to help make it happen.”

Joe, the hound mix, had been kept on a chain by his previous owners and had a pinch collar embedded in his neck. Jack, a “mostly black Lab” who has been adopted at another villa, was found with sores in his mouth and ears, a kidney stone and displaced hip.

“What the dogs bring is an element of home,” Sister Barbara said. “The impact of the program on the prisoners and the dogs is an inspiration. And there are now even more miracles of friendship and happiness happening at the Villas because of these precious creatures.”

Sister Barbara said a resident who feared dogs, had suffered a “massive stroke” and could not speak clearly. The woman went out on the patio one day to sit in the sun. Joe followed her and lay down beside her. When they came back inside, the woman spoke in perfect diction—to the dog.

One resident enjoys watching baseball on TV with the dog at his feet. Resident Mary Hall stays up late just to spend time with Joe. And when dinner is over, Joe cleans up the crumbs under the dining room table before the staff can sweep the floor.

“We ‘adopt out’ family companion dogs, not service dogs,” Mikan said. “This is Joe’s permanent home. He will grow old with these people.”

Jennifer Nalley, human resources manager of Providence Self-Sufficiency Ministries, went through training with the dogs at the prison in order to help residents learn how to give the dogs commands. The campus also has a fenced dog run so the canines, who know each other from their prison training days, can exercise and play together.

Sister Barbara plans to eventually introduce Joe and Jack to the children at Providence House, a facility for abused and neglected children on the campus.

Roy Reynolds, whose villa has adopted Jack, grew up on a dairy farm in Illinois. He recalled that as a boy, when he got up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows, the family’s German shepherds went to the barn with him.

Gladys Courtney, who also enjoys Jack’s company, said, “We always had dogs at home. My last little dog used to jump in my lap and go to sleep, and I’d fall asleep, too. I feel comfortable with a dog around.”

Eyeing Jack fondly as he lay between her and Reynolds, she added, “Your best friend you’ve got is your dog.”
 

(Patricia Happel Cornwell is a freelance writer and member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon.)

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