Dogs will spend 15 months behind bars as female inmates train them to help disabled people.
By David Hermann
Inland Valley Voice

September 19 2002

It had been 23 years since Delores Salkeld touched a puppy.

So when Joseph, a 3-month-old Labrador retriever, licked Salkeld's face and put his head in her lap, the 49-year-old inmate at the California Institution for Women could not hold back a tearful smile.

"It's an indescribable feeling -- so much joy," Salkeld said.

Joseph will be living with Salkeld in her cell for the next 15 months. The inmate and the puppy are part of a new program that is giving some of the women at the prison near Chino an opportunity to train dogs to help the disabled.

Although similar programs have been started at prisons in other states, this is the first in California to let dogs inside, a point that Warden John Dovey made to the 16 inmates who are participating in the project when they met the first four puppy trainees on Tuesday night.

"Remember ladies, you're making history," Dovey said, adding that wardens from other prisons around the state have already called to ask him about the program.

He said it is important that people outside the prison know that the inmates who have volunteered to train the puppies -- two black Labrador retrievers named Levi and Joseph and two golden retrievers named Joshua and Jacob -- do not get any special perks or time off from their jobs for participating.

"The women, many of them lifers, are really going to have to give of themselves," Dovey said. "This is something other-centered that allows them a chance to give back to the community."

Although he and the state Department of Corrections had to approve the program, Dovey gives much of the credit for the idea of bringing dogs to the prison to a Dominican nun from Maine.

He said Sister Pauline Quinn badgered him with e-mails every day for two months in an effort to sell him on the idea that the program would be good for his prison. After making some phone calls to wardens at other prisons where Quinn's puppies had been a success, Dovey said he was convinced.

"Eventually I said, 'All right, already. Stop with the e-mails, I'm sold,' " he said.

Quinn, whose efforts to bring prisoners and dogs together were dramatized in the 2001 Lifetime television film "Within These Walls," came to the prison Tuesday night to watch the faces on yet another group of inmates light up as they met their puppies.

Quinn, who was born in Southern California, said bringing puppies and prisoners together for the first time in her native state has been especially gratifying.

Quinn said she ran away from an abusive home in Santa Monica at an early age and spent most of her childhood being shuffled from institution to institution in and around Los Angeles.

"I had no out, nobody to talk to. I was tortured in some of those places and it damaged my life," she said. "I think that's why it was so special to me to be here with these women."

Quinn said there are similarities between the inmates and the disabled people who will eventually receive the dogs that they are training.

"The disabled are often in a little prison all their own. They're often ignored. They can't always do what they want to do," she said.

Carol Roquemore has been unable to walk since polio crippled her legs at the age of 4.

She founded Canine Support Teams in Temecula 13 years ago to help pair disabled people with dogs trained to make difficult lives easier.

Since then, the nonprofit organization has placed about 90 dogs with people suffering from a variety of ailments, including spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, lupus and muscular dystrophy.

Roquemore's own dog, a 3-year-old golden retriever named Martini, turns lights off and on, opens doors and retrieves difficult-to-reach items for the 53-year-old, who said the most important service provided by Martini and the other dogs that Canine Support Teams has trained is companionship and unconditional love.

Canine Support Teams provided the puppies and is providing the training to the inmates at the prison. Roquemore said the inmates will care for the puppies and give them basic instruction until the dogs are 18 months old. Then the animals will either move on to advanced training or be released from the program for adoption.

The waiting lists to adopt the trained service dogs that make it through the program and for those whose temperament or health disqualify them are very long, she said.

Although the inmates who train the first batch of puppies will only be taught the basics about dog obedience, psychology, health and grooming, Roquemore said she hopes that the program will eventually expand, giving the women at the prison an opportunity to learn and to teach the dogs more complicated commands.

She said more trainers will mean more trained dogs than the 18 to 20 a year that Canine Support Teams now produces. That, she said, would reduce the two-to three-year waiting period that disabled people who need a dog must now endure.

"Our hope is that we can add more inmates and eventually place more dogs and help the disabled community a bit more," she said.

In addition to helping those with disabilities, Roquemore said the program is teaching the women at the prison a marketable skill that could help them get a job outside the institution should they ever be released.

Correctional officer Phyllis Burkhardt is one of the program's staff sponsors and served on the committee that selected the participating inmates. She said the program is already benefiting the women while they're still inside the prison.

"A lot of the ladies have changed their whole demeanor," she said, adding that she's seen happy faces on inmates whom she hasn't seen smile in years. "I've had several women -- at least 20 -- ask me if they could be involved with the next group of dogs."

Theresa Cruz shares a room with Salkeld and will serve as an alternate taking care of Joseph when her cellmate is unable to.

She said Joseph will be a welcome addition to her life, despite the increased responsibility.

"It will be like taking care of a child, really," she said.

Cruz, a mother of four who has served 11 years of a seven-years-to-life sentence for attempted murder, said she doesn't fear the day months from now when she will have to surrender Joseph to the next phase of training.

"I've had to say goodbye to my kids once a week, every week now for 11 years," she said. "I know how to say goodbye."
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