New Onondaga County program combines pet adoption with inmate rehabilitation

Feb 5, 2014

Onondaga County lawmakers approved a plan to put a dog kennel at the county jail in Jamesville, with the idea of helping inmates and stray dogs.

Stephanie Higgins of the Syracuse Pit Crew says the dog shelter will serve as an overflow facility for up to 25 dogs from the SPCA and Dewitt Animal Hospital. These are animals that would be otherwise euthanized.

"What we really want to focus on are dogs that are adoptable," Higgins said. "Who would otherwise not have a chance because there is nowhere for them to go. People aren’t adopting them, and all too often healthy animals are dying in shelters because people aren’t adopting them.”

The kennel will allow more time for them to be adopted, and inmates will be trained to help care for the animals. Higgins believes that relationship between inmates and dogs can help with rehabilitation.

“Dogs have the ability to teach people how to be compassionate, and teach them passion and attachment and companionship," Higgins explained.

The Onondaga County Legislature approved spending $250,000 to build the kennel, though some lawmakers were opposed to spending money on the program. But Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon says this is the kind of thing that helps deal with one of the big issues the county faces today -- jail overpopulation.

“The answer just can’t be, 'let's build a fourth tower and let's just lock up more inmates,'" McMahon said. "That can’t be the answer. There needs to be a lot of different answers. You need law enforcement collaboration. You need to work with probation, the district attorney’s office, the judges. We need to make sure that non-violent offenders aren’t in the jail any longer than they have to be, because it costs money. Real money. Maybe this is a small part of the solution.”

McMahon though believes the money spent to build the kennel could ultimately help with the jail's recidivism rate.

"It just takes four inmates not to come back to Jamesville, and this thing pays for itself," McMahon said. "Just four. Just think about that. And hopefully the inmates when they leave Jamesville, will be taking a dog to their new homes."
This is a pilot program. The county is partnering with central New York animal welfare volunteers who will take care of adoptions and training the animals.