Paws for Prisoners


I found Bailey when he was an endearing pup at the Kansas City SPCA. I was looking for a dog to fill the void after Tucker died and couldn’t afford a Tibetan mastiff, Pharaoh Hound or King Charles Spaniel.

After a couple of years, Bailey blossomed into a full fledged member of our family. He cared for the kids, frolicked in the swimming pool and went after squirrels brave enough to venture into our back yard. He was always eager to shoulder his share of the load by taking out the trash, doing the laundry and enjoyed a seat at our dinner table. He even cleaned up after himself when he did his duty on the back lawn. By the time he was 3, he surprised even his piano teacher by learning how to read Mandarin, Punjabi and Min Bei and started tutoring all the kids in the neighborhood. He was such an affable, talented canine I started looking for ways to share his talents with the rest of the community.

I first saw the advertisement for Paws for Prisoners while riding the bus to work. It boasted that the Paws program was a collective effort between advocate groups, local animal shelters and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary where the inmates taught dogs basic obedience and shared mutual social skills. In return, the animals provided companionship to incarcerated felons. I don’t know why they felt convicted felons were in a position to teach dogs obedience and social skills. After all, wasn’t it the absence of social behavior that got them there in the first place? But, what the heck. Maybe he’d learn something new.

I drove Bailey to the Leavenworth induction center at the crack of dawn on Monday morning. As part of the arrangement, I agree to commit him to the program for a minimum of 6 months. That meant short of visiting days, this would be the last time I’d be able to pet him for a while. Neither one of us could anticipate the changes he was about to experience.

The Canine Unit took charge of Bailey, where they stripped him of his personal collar, took away his toys and de-loused him. This was followed by an extensive cavity search for contraband and a formal introduction into the federal penal system. As I turned to leave, Bailey looked at me with a stare that was a combination of anxiety and anticipation, as he pissed on the guard’s foot.

The next morning, Bailey was assigned to his inmate handler. Whitey “The Weasel” Bauman was the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, doing 10 consecutive life sentences for armed robbery and operating a motor vehicle with an expired learner’s permit. Because Bailey was a German Shepherd, the program officials thought he and Whitey might be a good fit. Personally, I was relieved to hear the news. Everything I’ve read about prison life said it’s impossible to survive if you’re not a member of a gang, so I’m glad Whitey took Bailey under his wing.

Bailey wasn’t allowed to communicate with the outside world for the first two weeks of his incarceration. The prison officials knew from experience that the key to successfully surviving life in the pen was to sequester new inmates from the outside world, giving them an opportunity to completely assimilate their new environment. Whitey kept him busy. He showed him how to change the sheets on his bunk, where to sit in the mess hall, how to carve a shiv out of a Milk Bone and introduced him to some of the other Aryan dogs in the yard.

My first opportunity to visit Bailey came three weeks later. As he shuffled into the visitor’s room under shackled paws, I nearly fainted when I saw he had shaved his head. Tattooed around his neck was “Dog Pride World Wide” and “Skin Head” across his knuckles – well, whatever dogs have in the place of knuckles. When I slid a new Frisbee through the visitor’s screen, he gave me a look of pity – like, “What a pathetic attempt to make up for my hollow childhood.” He was copping quite an attitude.

The other thing that disturbed me was he started smoking again. He said everyone smoked in prison – even the cats. Cigarettes are the universal form of barter, so I promised to bring him a couple of cartons and some doggy porn on my next visit. “It’s tough wedging a cigarette in between my toes,” he said. “And try firing up a disposable lighter without opposing thumbs. It’s virtually impossible.” He thought about switching to smokeless tobacco, but there’s nothing more disgusting than spitting all over your cell – even for a dog.

It was apparent to me after several more visits, what seemed like an opportunity for Bailey to make an altruistic contribution to the world was having the reverse effect on him. Instead of helping Whitey curtail his violent tendencies, Bailey was slipping into a pattern of anti-social behavior himself and spending more and more time in solitary confinement. He refused to respond to simple commands like, “Sit, stay, down, heel and fetch.” Instead, he was picking up new ones like “Play dead” during knife fights, “Piss on the warden” and “Crap” when Whitey wanted him to poop out the contraband the other inmates’ wives pushed up his rectum during visiting hours. Small condoms filled with drugs were one thing, but smuggling cell phones, Buck knives and 9mm handguns was really starting to take its toll on Bailey.

It was clear to both of us Bailey wasn’t going to be able to fulfill his 6-month obligation with the Paws program, so we started making plans to bust him out of there. Well, not escape from prison, but rather through negotiations with the warden for an early release. By that time, Whitey was spending most of his time in the hole anyway, so Bailey wasn’t offering him much companionship. That worked in his favor. On the other hand, Bailey had become a popular member of the Aryan smuggling operation, so they were reluctant to let him go until his contract was up.

We finally hired a lawyer: Berman Mendenhall from San Francisco. Mendenhall had experience with terminating contracts between animals and the Department of Justice. He was able to free Bailey on a technicality. Since he couldn’t speak or sign documents himself, Bailey’s contract was legally null and void. He was free to go.


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