Mitchellville Prison Blues

 |  May 11th 2009  |   5 Contributions


There isn't a Johnny Cash song about the Mitchellville state women's prison but maybe there should be. They have implemented a terrific program in conjunction with the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, allowing inmates who qualify to help care for mixed breed dogs until they can be adopted.

About 100 dogs annually receive care from Mitchellville inmates through the prison's PAWS program, which stands for Pets and Women Succeeding. It started in February 2002.

About the same number of cats are overseen each year through WHISKERS, an acronym for Women Helping Indigent Special Kittens Earn Residence. It began in January 2003.

Oscar and Jo Jo have cocker spaniel and schnauzer bloodlines. They came from a puppy mill, where they were locked in cages for the first 11 months of their lives, prison officials said.

They were antisocial when they arrived at Mitchellville and didn't want to be separated. Now, both dogs let inmates pet them and they can sleep alone, said Jennifer Hines, 32, of Dubuque, who is serving time for forgery.

"I feel like I have accomplished something," Hines said. "I can actually say that these dogs are ready to be adopted out, and I don't think they will be returned."

Five inmates provide full-time care for dogs through Mitchellville's PAWS program. They work in two, eight-hour shifts each day, using dog-friendly methods to teach some basics, including house and crate training, and getting used to a collar and leash.

Across the yard at the Mitchellville prison, officially known as the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, is the WHISKERS program. Eight women patiently care for abandoned cats and kittens.

This program can literally make the difference between life and death for these animals, and at the same time help to change the lives of the prisoners.

Both the PAWS and WHISKERS programs teach responsibility, patience, leadership, teamwork, self-control and self-esteem. The training gained through these programs helps prepare the inmates for future employment opportunities and allows them to contribute positively to the community.

I've read about other prisons doing this to aid in rehabilitation, it has benefits for both animals and humans alike. If these types of programs spread to prisons throughout the country think of how many homeless animals could be saved.

I want to thank Dogster member Aloya for barking this to me.

* Photo courtesy JOHN GAPS III/THE REGISTER

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