The dogs’ death sentences were stayed, they were sent to prison instead. How does their treatment compare with an incarcerated man?
Editor: This article was originally posted on SacBee in a different form. The original article by Spoon Jackson contained a couple of numerical errors which the prison department pointed out as inaccurate. The article was rewritten to correct the errors, but the rewrite changed the original voice of the author. Here is the original voice of the author with the necessary numerical corrections in place.
Waking up to the smell, sound, and sight of the dogs and their wagging tails in the morning was like holding hands with a long time friend. Like walking down the dry Mojave River and being licked by sunshine on the face, after a long stay in solitary confinement.
I could not believe it; they marched in five dogs under the barbed razor and electric fencing, across the prison yard and into cell block five which had been re-fitted for the hounds.
Once known as the hole, I helped transform the cell block into a mainline and dog building. There were freshly scrubbed floors, walls and doors scented with new paint. I cleaned out the 20 play pens on the back of the cell block for the dogs. Each pen two times the size of a two-person cell. We polished the bars and door handles, and revitalized the dead grass in front of the building.
Paws For Life, Karma Rescue have come into the prison to train inmates to care for once condemned hounds. I conversed with a prospective dog trainer weeks before the dogs arrived.
“You are one of those dog people… the chosen few, huh?” I inquired.
“Yeah that’s a good thing” he responded.
My curiosity was not sated. “What were you doing at the work center?”
“Making dog beds.”
“Will the beds be in the cells?”
“No” he states very matter of fact.
“The SPCA, Peta… one of the animal rights groups said legally the cells are too small for the dogs.”
Wow, don’t get me wrong, because I am not hating on the dogs. They must have the proper space to be a dog… to bark, wag and howl when needed.
I grew up with dogs in the free world, and raised greyhounds for rabbit hunting. In the high desert, some semi-wild dogs were my best friends. I ran with a pack of them up and down the dry river. We greeted like wolves at dawn and howled at the moon at dusk. They nurtured the poet and beast inside me, when I did not know I was a poet. They gave me purpose when I had none.
You should have seen Campy, Buddy, and Big Sister run down jack rabbits, no less elegant than cheetahs running down gazelles on the African plains; tragically beautiful.
Sometimes the rabbits ran back towards me, sweaty long ears and fur soaked like it just hopped out of a foamy pool. I’d see the fear in the jack rabbit’s marble eyes. The catch was like when two stars clashed and melted into one, becoming a black hole; sorrowful and lovely at the same time.
Some folks here are hating on the dog program, due to all the love and pampering the hounds receive. Jealous of the huge play pens, cotton blankets and soft throw rugs. Hating on the high priced meat/vegetable logs, which are of a higher quality than the food prisoners eat. The high grade mackerel and other real meat products. The hounds do get a lot of wonderful treats, different kinds of cheese, jerky, and peanut butter. The meat logs that are twice the size of frozen cookie dough look good enough to eat.
The dogs were to live in the cells with the inmates that train them, but again the cells are too small for a dog, but okay for housing two human beings.
I know the dogs have not broken any laws and are not lifers. Still, how can a space be large enough for two people, but not big enough for one dog without being an animal rights violation, or cruel and unusual punishment, or something animal rights activists would have a fit and picket governments, governors, prisons, wardens, and even God… if a dog was forced to live in a space too small and with other dogs that it did not get along with?
The dogs have their own exercise yard and playpens with outside and inside lounging. Inside the dog area, they have a large swamp cooler like fans to chill in. Some hounds roll over on their back, legs in air, head turned to the side. A lovely sight. The fans are intended for staff, inmates, and dogs.
I cleaned up the 20 play pens and scrubbed the toilets extra clean because I thought the hounds would drink from the little pool, no longer used as a toilet. Instead, each dog had its own water trough next to a sleeping cot, and their own igloo and little swimming pool. They bathed in a bath tub big enough for a human.
I watched the dogs and inmate trainers picking up steaming pooh. Something I am certain none of the trainers saw themselves doing when they were on the streets starting criminal or gangster careers. The dogs would dance around like little kids proud to have gone potty in the right spot.
I am not hating on the dogs. Although, the dog food and treats looked and smelled way more tasty than the substance prisoners eat. I think the dogs deserve all the treats, high quality food and perks. It is paid for from an outside organization.
The dogs are like rock stars and deservedly so. Yet, I was a bit reluctant to want to see my fellow dog beings locked up in cages. I had not been around dogs in decades.
To save lives is always a worthy cause, and I support and believe in the dog program fully. The program reminds me of The Reading for the Blind program we had back in the days at San Quentin.
If allowed to, I would be the official flute player and poet for the hounds to help them rest and sleep. I think the PAWS for Life, Karma Rescue dog program here at Lancaster State Prison is a worthy cause.
The dogs were days from death, from being executed, when rescued and sent to prison. The first batch of dogs has already graduated and was adopted out of prison.
Stay free my friends.
Photo: Georgie Pauwels/Flickr