PARIS — When Bonney Fogg and her family lost their Labrador retriever recently, she went on the search for a new family member, which at times felt like an insurmountable quest.
After many trials and tribulations, Fogg was able to welcome young Addie, a graduate of the unique Paws in Prison program, into her home.
She explained how she first hitched a ride on this emotional roller coaster, which thankfully had a happy ending for almost everyone involved.
“My sweet best friend, Sarah – she was our 14-and-a-half-year-old lab – passed away unexpectedly. … If you’re really attached, it’s a family member that’s gone,” Fogg said from the living room of her Paris home recently. “It was a very awful way for her to pass and my husband was away. I knew then I wanted another dog.”
But it wasn’t just another dog for only Fogg and her husband, Jim – she was looking for a furry friend who would visit her 80-year-old parents every day while the couple was at work and also share the Fogg home with her daughter, Shawn, a and grandson, Mason.
“That’s a tall order,” Fogg admitted about finding a dog that could get along with their family, which has members on both ends of the age spectrum and scattered in between. And on top of that, she couldn’t have an alpha dog because their remaining dog, Sadie, an 8-year-old cocker spaniel, is the alpha of the household.
She checked all of the local animal shelters without much luck and became discouraged. Then Fogg discovered Cherish – a black lab mix, whose soulful brown eyes and typical Labrador face drew Fogg in, including with her white patch of chin fur. She found her online with For Dog’s Sake Rescue in neighboring New Hampshire. They had a photo of the 2-year-old dog – who was later named Addie by Fogg and her family – and was a participant in the mostly unheard of Paws in Prison program.
Fogg, who admits she is technologically challenged, thought she sent in an application for the dog. A few days later it was discovered it didn’t go through, so she resent it.
“Since I knew labs, I felt I wanted to stay there,” Fogg explained about applying for Addie. “There is a specialness to them. They’re very sweet and heartfelt animals.”
Shortly after, she was contacted by the Jefferson County Humane Society in Arkansas.
“It was a surprise really,” Fogg said. “I thought my dog was coming from Manchester, N.H.”
This is when Fogg connected with Elaine Vaccaro, who is a volunteer with the southern Humane Society and the caseworker for the Paws in Prison program for the Randall L. Williams Correctional Facility in Pine Bluff, Ark. Vaccaro explained For Dog’s Sake is a rescue partner, where Paws in Prison dogs are featured online and most applications processed through the New Hampshire rescue agency.
Vaccaro oversees parts of the Paws in Prison program and speaks with potential adopters.
“I evaluate dogs to go in, I attend weekly trainings with inmates and the professional trainer,” she said. “I get to know the dogs. When people apply for the dogs, we try to make the best match, the best fit of owner, with the dog.”
But Addie – still known at the time as Cherish – was in a unique situation, according to Vaccaro and Fogg. She was a black dog and there were six applications in to adopt her.
“There really is black dog syndrome. People normally don’t want a black dog,” Vaccaro said, adding this is because it’s a dominant color and is sometimes associated with “supposedly vicious breeds,” such as Dobermans and Rottweilers. “It was just odd to us that we had this black dog and we had several applications on her because it just doesn’t really happen.”
Vaccaro told Fogg she was the second in line for adoption, as there was a family ahead of her who wanted the young, black dog that didn’t have any behavioral problems.
Disheartened, not but completely discouraged, Fogg renewed her search for another dog. She scoured the shelters again and began checking with other rescue organizations. She even went to North Conway, N.H., on Mother’s Day where a new shipment of dogs rescued from the South – to keep them from being put down – had arrived. Just when Fogg thought she was on the cusp of finding a new family member, it was dashed in an instant.
“Most of them were on hold,” Fogg said about the dogs she went to visit on Mother’s Day. “I couldn’t talk to anybody [about adoption that day].”
But that’s when Vaccaro came to the rescue.
“A week to 10 days later, I get a call from my friend Elaine. … Elaine said the other family decided not to take the dog and I asked why. It was felt that Cherish (now Addie) was an alpha dog,” Fogg recalled. “But Elaine said she is not an alpha dog. I said, ‘How do you know that?’ [Vaccaro replied,] ‘I fostered over 400 dogs.’ … So I trusted Elaine. How do you argue with 400 dogs?”
Addie had to finish the eight-week Paws in Prison program before she could head to Maine to begin her new life. Fogg later discovered why it was thought she was an alpha dog through one of the innmate’s log he kept on Addie.
“When Addie came there, they had just spayed her. She was pregnant and had aborted her puppies,” Fogg said. “When she got there, she gathered all the stuffed animals in his cell and slept with them – that explains her behavior. … He talked about how awful it was – it broke his heart.”
During the program, Vacarro found out everything she could about the dog – at Fogg’s request and just because that is what she does. Both said Vacarro goes beyond the call of duty to ensure the match between dog and human can be as nearly perfect as possible.
“I go above and beyond trying to answer adopters’ questions. … We just appreciate so much that these people are adopting these dogs site unseen,” Vaccaro said. She added she sends additional photos and videos to adopters and also has kid, cat, horse and even chicken tested dogs before an adoption goes through.
For Addie, Vaccaro brought her home and invited her grandchildren over to make sure she would get along with smaller humans, which she passed with flying colors.
“Even when Elaine was trying to appease all my questions and trying to find out who Addie was, I would just ask for signs. Three times they were all answered within five minutes,” Fogg remembered. “I got the same exact feeling that I had when I decided to get my other dog, Sarah, from a shelter. It was the same heartbreak and happiness and mixed emotions that made me cry that day. And it was the same emotions when I got that sign [after] I got up off the couch after emailing Elaine.”
Vaccaro also believes in signs from a higher power, especially when it came to this adoption.
“I feel like and Bonney feels like the other lady didn’t get Cherish (Addie) because Bonney was supposed to,” she said. “I do believe now in divine intervention. I believe God has had a hand in our adoptions.”
So after the eight weeks and the program’s completion, it was time for Addie to make the 26-hour trip to Maine. So here is the happy ending, right? Not quite, as there was one more twist in this dog’s tale.
As a way to help pay for Paws in Prison, each graduate dog creates a painting that is auctioned off online. It was a weekend-long auction and since Fogg has technology issues, her daughter, Shawna was in charge of trying to secure Addie’s painting.
“My daughter was online, bidding and bidding. … We waited until the last 10 minutes … she had her bid and everything was good and someone came in in the last minute [and bid on and won four paintings, including Addie’s],” Fogg said. “My daughter was devastated.”
But like her mother, Shawna wouldn’t give up on the work of art they were so close, yet still so far, from purchasing. She discovered the bidder was a higher up in the Paws in Prison program and Fogg asked Vaccaro to reach out to see if they could pay for the painting to display in their Paris house. She happily obliged and was able to get it for Addie’s family.
“It is just beautiful and her inmate trainer is artistic,” Vaccaro said about the green and brown profile of Addie. “You can just see it’s her paw print. He kind of guided her. I was very glad she was able to get it.”
As was Fogg. She perfectly summed up the outcome of this dog’s tale.
“We lost the dog, we got the dog. We lost the painting, we got the painting,” Fogg said with a wide smile.
Paws in Prison program
ARKANSAS — The Paws in Prison program is a nonprofit program run through the Arkansas Department of Corrections that pairs inmates with dogs, who participate in an eight-week training session to prepare the animals for adoption.
Elaine Vaccaro is a volunteer with the Jefferson County Humane Society and caseworker for Paws in Prison for the Randall L. Williams Correctional Facility in Pine Bluff, Ark. She recently helped Bonney Fogg of Paris, Maine, adopt the 2-year-old black lab mix, Addie, from the program.
The nonprofit Paws in Prison program came to almost every correctional facility in Arkansas about four years ago, according to Vacarro. Not only does she play match-maker, Vaccaro screens the dogs who are enrolled in the program. There are only four spots open at a time at the facility she’s in charge of.
“To get in the Paws in Prison program, the dogs have to pass a test,” she said, noting this is a socialization screening to see if the animals will guard wet food, pig ears, rawhides and the like. “If they protest, they flunk. Actually more dogs flunk the test to get into the program than pass the test.”
But not is all lost for those canines who don’t make it into Paws in Prison.
“It doesn’t mean we aren’t going to do anything with these other dogs,” Vaccaro explained. “We are still going to find homes for these other dogs. It’s like the elite group for the Paws in Prison program.”
The same can be said about the inmates who become dog trainers for the program.
“Just as the dogs have to be tested, the men have to pass an evaluation in order to participate in program. They have to stay out of trouble when they’re in there. If they get in trouble, they get kicked out,” she said, noting this even includes getting into a verbal argument. “It’s an incentive for them to be well behaved. They learn more people skills [and] of course, learning to work with the dogs. They also have to learn how to cooperate and work with each other.”
Vaccaro attends the trainings at the correctional facility, where a professional trainer comes in once a week to assist the inmates and shares tips and pointers. Two inmates are assigned to each of the four dogs.
“The two trainers work with the dogs to teach them basic obedience – walk, sit, down, stay. Some of them learn tricks,” she said, which includes sit pretty, shake hands, roll over, bow and pray. “I like pray because when they ask me to speak [about the program to organizations], sometimes I will have the dog bow and pray and say, ‘Yes he or she is praying for their forever home.’”
To graduate from the program, each dog must pass the 10-step, pass/fail K9 Good Citizen Test, which is regulated through the American Kennel Club.
For more information on the Paws in Prison program, visit www.facebook.com/ArkansasPawsinPrison/.