Inmates, abused animals learn
trust, love in program
NINA LONG / STAFF
''I've always had a soft spot in my heart for animals,'' says
Lajuane Crenshaw at the Metro Animal Services.
By SHEILA BURKE
A Metro jail program
that allows some inmates to care for neglected and
abused animals is showing early signs of success, the
Davidson County sheriff's office said.
The Time to Paws program gives inmates some of whom are
jailed on charges of domestic violence the chance to
care for animals that have been beaten, starved or
neglected by their owners.
officials say, the inmates learn compassion and responsibility
and receive a constructive outlet for their energy. The program,
a year old this month, also is having a positive if early effect
on the inmates' recidivism rate, officials said.
''I hate to say it: This time being incarcerated has really
changed my life,'' said Chuck Davis, a program participant who
was jailed for threatening his wife. Davis said he had been
repeatedly arrested for drunken driving. He said the program
''takes being incarcerated out of my mind'' and that he would
like to adopt some of the animals when he is released from jail.
Inmates at the Correctional Work Center, a minimum-security jail
in south Nashville, work with animals at Metro Animal Services,
which is near the center.
Four days a week, inmates go to the shelter to clean the cages
of dogs, cats and other would-be pets, feeding them and teaching
some of the most frightened ones to once again trust humans.
Becky Levy, program monitor for Time to Paws, said inmates with
a history of domestic abuse particularly learn from their wards.
''They raise their hands, and they see an animal cowering in a
cage, and I say, 'That's how your family feels around you,' ''
The program also teaches the inmates, many of whom have never
been shown love, a chance to learn how to give and receive
affection, she said. ''When they come down here, they let their
guard down,'' Levy said. ''I see the big guys crying.''
The program has been a real benefit to the animals as well, said
Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, who conceived the program
based on working six months in an Australian jail that put
animals in prison cells.
''We've seen the animals learn to trust and have comfort with
people in the world,'' Hall said.
Not all of the participants in Time to Paws are domestic
abusers. Most have gone through jail programs such as the
Sheriff's Anti-Violence Effort (SAVE) for domestic abusers and
New Avenues, a state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment
Many of the participants have not been rearrested in Metro. Hall
said it was too early to tell whether the declining recidivism
rate would hold up over time. In the last year, 56
minimum-security inmates have gone through the program, and nine
of them have been rearrested in Davidson County, the sheriff's
office said. There has never been an escape.
The recidivism rate for inmates who have gone through SAVE is
44% and 50% for New Avenues, the alcohol and drug treatment
program, said sheriff's office spokeswoman Karla Crocker. The
recidivism rate nationally is 65%, she said.
The benefits go beyond staying out of jail, Hall said. Inmates
who care for animals tend to behave better while they are in the
''It costs money if we have to fight and wrestle with these guys
in the jail,'' Hall said.
The inmates have nurtured dogs, cats, snakes, a goat and a
horse, among other animals, and they're caring for an emu caged
outside behind Metro Animal Services' Harding Place facility.
They unload hundreds of pounds of pet food, walk dogs and keep
the animals clean. They could be seen cradling the creatures and
giggling and cooing at them last week.
''I've always had a soft place in my heart for animals,'' said
Lajuane Crenshaw, who said he was in the jail on a drug-related
Shelter officials say that by getting some animals to love
people again, the inmates could reduce the number of animals
that are destroyed each year because they are not adopted.
Director of Metro Animal Services Judy Ladebauche said, ''The
more socialized the animals are, the more adoptable they are. So
we're really excited, and we expect it to continue and grow.''
Adoptions at Metro Animal Services have gone up 728% since 1999,