K-9 of a different kind at Knox County JailPod Dog Program changing jail culture
A new program has come to the Knox County Jail — one that both administrators and inmates say is having a calming effect on the jail population.
In early October, Miller, an 8-year-old golden retriever, was commissioned as the newest officer at Knox County Jail. However, Miller is not trained to detect drugs or for protection like many other canines that are associated with police agencies.
Miller is a pet.
The golden retriever is the first canine to move into the correctional facility as part of the Pod Dog Program, a new initiative where selected inmates take care of and provide for the needs of the dog.
Miller came from Lincoln County Animal Shelter where he was placed after his owner returned to the work force and no longer had time for him, said Betsy Pratt, manager at the Edgecomb shelter.
"[Placing Miller at the jail] was an experiment to see how it was going to work and it's been a big success," said Knox County Sheriff's Office Donna Dennison.
The program first began two years ago at Somerset County Jail in Skowhegan.
"My father [John Carroll] was chief deputy in Somerset and we were talking about it one day and thought it would be nice to get a dog into the program," Pratt said, adding her brother is Tim Carroll, chief deputy at Knox County Sheriff's Office.
The Somerset jail has had four dogs since that time. The first dog died of cancer, another dog ended up being too nervous for the program and was adopted by a jail officer and now two dogs, a golden retriever and Labrador retriever, call the jail home.
"When I went down there and saw how well the program was going I wanted to do it here," Dennison said.
Miller lives in one of the women's pods, which housed five inmates as of Dec. 12, and two women are responsible for the dog's care. A pod has a wing with a number of cells and dayroom.
"There has always been personality issues and it seems to have taken some of that away," said Jail Administrator Maj. John Hinkley.
Miller is currently being cared for by inmates Anita Malmstrom of Vinalhaven and Michelle Young of Cushing.
"We bathe him, take him for walks, take him outside to the bathroom — just care for his general well-being," Young said.
Young, who is expected to be released within the next month, is serving a sentence for a probation violation.
"We love him and do whatever he needs," Malmstrom said.
Malmstrom, who is serving a sentence for failing to report to probation, will continue working with Miller until she is released in late May.
"This tends to be a difficult place to be and people get riled up," Young said. "He's like a baby, like a child, and he doesn't like it when you raise your voice."
Young said Miller has helped keep her calm in those situations because she doesn't want to upset him. Other inmates seem to take notice of Miller and change their behavior as well, she said.
"He's getting spoiled," Malmstrom said as she stroked Miller's coat.
She said he tends to whine or bark when the women are talking and not paying as much attention to him as he feels they should.
Young said one of her jobs at the jail is to bring the laundry carts to the laundry room and Miller comes with her while she is doing the errands.
Miller is kept on a leash, primarily for security reasons, while walking about the jail, Dennison and Hinkley said. However, he is allowed free reign in the pod. At night, he sleeps in a crate in the cell block.
"He doesn't mind at all," Dennison said.
Inmates chosen to participate are selected by the program manager based on good behavior.
"If they haven't followed the rules, they do not deserve the privilege," the sheriff said, adding there is now an incentive for inmates to behave better because they know they will lose the responsibility to care for the dog.
"The individual that has the dog has a feeling of responsibility for caring for it — it's almost like a parenting class," Hinkley said.
Pratt said she has received some negative feedback, but said she thinks the program is "wonderful."
"We have done this for a couple of years and some inmates have written stories about how it has changed their life," Pratt said, adding that some people noted it was the first time they expressed love or had ever felt love in return.
Beyond helping to calm her in bad situations, Young said it makes being in jail a little easier.
"It's hard being away from the people you love and you tend to get down at times and he comforts you," she said. "He's helped me and I know he's helped others too."
"He's a blessing," Malmstrom said.
Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.