JACKSON — With raggedy fur and timid glances, 47 dogs rescued from foul conditions at a New Orleans-area home this week emerged from a van’s steel crates Friday and joined a prison-based animal training program north of Baton Rouge.
A mix of breeds, sizes and ages funneled into much-too-big kennels, most of them cowering in a corner or quietly sniffing around their new surroundings. Dozens of other animals already at the Dixon Correctional Institution yapped and jumped around in response to their new roommates.
The dogs will call the prison home, at least for a bit, as a team of seven inmates cares for them in the Pen Pals program. The 47 dogs had been removed Monday from what authorities believe was a hoarding-type situation in Terrytown.
Jefferson Parish Animal Control officials transported the dogs to the prison Friday morning and, though they’re still considered evidence in a pending case against their former owner, Dixon’s Pen Pals program will be able to care for and socialize the animals until one day they can be adopted to new homes if the courts revoke ownership.
JACKSON — For a handful of inmates at Dixon Correctional Institute, every other week means seeing companions leave the prison, never to return…
“It’s a dual purpose. We help the dogs, but we also help the offenders as well,” prison Deputy Warden Dustin Bickham said. "With certain (dogs) they might try do obedience training and things of that nature, and some of the inmates are working on vet tech degrees so when they get out they have a job and a skill."
The seven inmates who’ve been vetted for participation in the program stood by the animal control van Friday waiting for the staff to hand over their new temporary pets. They were gentle as they held the dogs — each under 30 pounds — close to their chests, some even giving the pups a quick head scruff or receiving a face lick as they took them to each kennel.
“I love it, every day,” said inmate Joshua Fleetwood, who’s been with the prison’s shelter for the last five years of his 10 years served. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job, and it’s not very glamorous, you know. If it’s hot, you’re hot. If it’s cold, you’re cold. If it’s raining, you’re wet, but it’s worth it.”
The prison shelter took in almost all the dogs from the Terrytown home. Officials confiscated around 150 animals total, including birds and cats.
Jefferson Parish Chief Animal Control Officer Shannon Neal, who was at the handover Friday, had said previously the home in which the animals were found was squalid.
The prison shelter, which Bickham said partners with the Humane Society of the United States, already had an estimated 65 dogs before Friday’s delivery, bringing the total to more than 100 animals to care for.
The inmates recently received an influx of 10 dogs from South Korea that were saved from a breeding operation in which they were intended to be used as meat. At other times, the prison will see an influx during times of evacuations or crises, like hurricanes or the 2016 flood. There was once previously when Jefferson Parish delivered 80 American bulldogs rescued from a hoarding situation, Fleetwood said, but to take more than 40 dogs at once and almost double the shelter’s size is a big undertaking.
“The first thing is going to be really assessing any medical concerns off the bat, and aside from that the first few days we probably won’t handle them a lot,” Fleetwood said. “We’ll just let them stay in their kennel and get acclimated; you don’t want to do too much too fast.”