'Leash on Life' benefits pups and prisoners alike


BAYBORO, Pamlico County - A program at the Pamlico Correctional Institution is pairing prisoners with pups to give dogs considered too wild to be adopted a "New Leash on Life."

As part of a partnership with the Carteret County Humane Society and Pamlico Pals for Paws, inmates are paired with dogs to provide them with needed obedience training.

Sydney is one of six dogs serving time in the jail, paired up with inmates that will spend the next two months working with them and training them to make them ready for adoption. Known in PCI as Inmate 00186, Sydney is a repeat offender - constantly being brought back to the shelter by families who had tried to adopt her because of her bad behavior.

Her new trainer isn't going anywhere. Inmate Timothy Johnson is serving life without parole for murder, yet he displays patience in spades, knowing what it's like to need a second chance.

"We all have a story, we all have a chance, whether that's a person or a dog, that we can overcome our past, we can overcome the things we've been through and the things that we've done," Johnson said.

The dogs spend 8-10 weeks in prison with their trainers, learning obedience skills. Some who work in the prison say they notice just as much of a change in the inmates as they do the dogs.

"When you're walking down the hallway with a new dog coming in and you see this 300-pound burly inmate just turn into a little mush mouse in the hallway and talking like a baby to these dogs it brings you back and lets you know that these guys are in fact human," program coordinator Sandy Trest said. "They aren't these throwaway people."

Though having to say goodbye to the animals they form a bond with is hard, it is satisfying for the inmates knowing they've given the dogs a better chance for succeeding in their new home.

"These dogs get picked up by these families and they thank you for what you are doing and you want to thank them," Johnson said. "You do it because you love it and it is something I am very thankful to have found." Two of the dogs in the program already have families waiting for them, but the four others are still waiting on their forever homes. They are set to graduate from the New leash on Life program on Aug. 16. Adoption applications are available online.