“Better than any probation program”: convicts called for the opening of dog shelters in prisons

“Better than any probation program”: convicts called for the opening of dog shelters in prisons

Date with a dog

“Please allow me to pet the dog,” the famous blogger-prisoner Eric Davydych, video blogger Eric Kituashvili, addressed the head of pre-trial detention center No. 99/1 “Kremlin Central” several years ago. Here is how it was. He was taken for walks accompanied by a service dog (either for intimidation, or in serious fear of escape). So, after a long stay in complete isolation, he asked the guards to let him at least pet this dog. The prisoner was refused, and he could not understand why. However, in this particular case everything is very clear: the dog in the pre-trial detention center is on duty.

Many prisoners asked for a “date” with their dog. They explained that parting with their beloved four-legged friend is no less traumatic for them than with loved ones. Among these dog-loving prisoners was, for example, businessman Sergei Polonsky, whom Flint and Pharaoh (he often called them “boys”) were waiting for him to be released and who had previously spent time with him in a Cambodian prison. There were absolutely tragic stories when the dog of a prisoner placed in a pre-trial detention center fell ill from melancholy and died.

“Look, my mother writes from home that Sverchok (my dog) doesn’t eat,” a prisoner in Butyrka addressed me, while a member of the POC. “He’s the one who misses me so much.” I would like to see him once so that he understands: I’m alive, I didn’t leave him!

But every time in such cases, the investigation answers: the law does not provide for meetings with pets either at the stage of investigation or while serving a sentence. For your information, in some countries, prisoners have achieved the right to communicate with their pets during dates (for example, a wife comes to a meeting with a dog). Alas, in Russia legislators are not yet ready to even talk about this.

However, animals have always been and are in places not so remote. As a rule, these are cats. Unlike dogs, they live quietly in an “illegal situation” and catch rats. They are almost invisible and almost inaudible.

“They finally took me to the colony,” a quote from a letter home from a convicted Muscovite (it is at the disposal of the editors). - It's not as scary as I thought. And you know, there are cats here! It's such a joy to see them and be able to pet them. The best anti-stress. There are many cats; convicts give them the best pieces of food. And I think: I wish there were abandoned dogs here! The prisoners would look after them and educate them. And they themselves would “thaw out” together with them. Please convey this initiative from us to human rights activists. It’s better than any probation program.”

There has been talk for a long time that dogs could be used to socialize prisoners. They also referred to international experience: zootherapy began to be used within prison walls in the mid-80s. By the way, the local population did not always support this. Some US residents opposed prisoners interacting with animals or having a permanent pet, arguing that criminals could not be trusted to care for anyone at all. But practice has shown that prisoners are not only capable of showing care and compassion for animals, but are also ready to take responsibility for their little brothers. At the same time, their own psychological state noticeably improved.

“A person who is behind bars noticeably increases their stress level, often develops depression, worsens mental disorders and has problems with communication,” says psychologist Nastya Komissarova. “And here no one can come to the rescue better than a dog.” In those prisons that allowed prisoners to interact with animals, the number of suicides dropped sharply.

This is exactly the case when not only prisoners need dogs, but vice versa. Many homeless dogs that end up in a shelter do not receive proper care and affection (workers simply cannot pay attention to each of the pets). As a result, they remain aggressive. And who will take them? In general, pets can remain in a shelter all their lives (and this is at best; at worst, they are killed)... And in some countries they have found a solution: shelter owners offer penal colonies to take in animals that have survived cruel treatment and have not been socialized. In California, there is a program where participants - inmates of a local prison - train dogs so that they can become certified as Citizen Dogs and find a new family. One of the prisoners, who raised several dogs under this program, after his release became one of the most sought-after trainers in California and now runs a successful dog sitting business.

And there are plenty of such stories. In Thailand, they went even further - the Ministry of Justice, as part of an innovative project, allowed the breeding of dogs in four prisons in Nakhon Ratchasima, Rayong, Khlong Phai and Khao Bin. People are willing to wait for years to get their four-legged friend out of prison.

"You were evil and I was evil"

In Russia, only in correctional colony No. 3 did the Chitas decide on a bold experiment. This happened in 2016, when a nursery for stray animals was opened on the territory. Since then, the institution has repeatedly won tenders for the maintenance of stray animals - this is about 3 million rubles a year. At different times, up to 300 dogs and up to 100 cats were kept here. Where did they get them from? These are animals that were caught by veterinary station teams on the streets of the city (most often after complaints from local residents or even after attacks on people), sterilized and vaccinated.

— Dogs are kept in a shelter at a colony usually for up to six months. Anyone can come and take the animal home after it stops being aggressive, says one of the employees. - All this time they are looked after, several convicts work with them, who receive a salary for this.

The stories of all the dogs that ended up here are both similar and unique at the same time. They are similar in that they ended up on the street overnight. But the reasons for this can be very different. Someone's owner died, someone was thrown away "as unnecessary", someone got lost. There are also dogs here that the owners themselves brought to the shelter - they say there is no way to keep them anymore (say, a child was born, they are afraid of allergies and that the animal will attack).

A couple of years ago there was a scandal - experts said that dogs were allegedly kept behind bars in terrible conditions. The colony staff denied this. The problem, apparently, was the lack of control over the shelter by society (after all, outsiders are not allowed into the colony). But then the public calmed down: local journalists were allowed to enter the territory and show what was really happening in the shelter. And there, as it turned out, the animals were fine.

Has one shelter at IK solved the problem of all stray dogs? Alas. There were no fewer dogs in Chita that gathered in packs and attacked. And on January 22, 2022, a terrible thing happened - a pack (which, by the way, included several of the owner’s dogs) killed a seven-year-old girl. This story unwittingly divided residents into two camps. The first demanded that all stray dogs be immediately caught and euthanized. The second proposed abandoning radical measures to solve the problem and proceeding from the principle that the people who abandoned the dogs (who turned wild and became aggressive) were to blame. As a result, the government of the Trans-Baikal Territory approved by the end of last year the requirements for keeping and walking pets, including a ban on letting dogs roam freely, a ban on walking in public places without a leash and muzzle. On December 25, the Legislative Assembly in the first reading adopted a bill providing for a maximum period for keeping aggressive and unclaimed dogs in temporary detention centers “with subsequent killing.”

“This became possible thanks to the fact that the State Duma in 2023, by a new federal law, gave the regions the right to resolve the issue of stray animals themselves,” says lawyer Ksenia Amdur. — Three regions — Buryatia, Yakutia and the Astrakhan region — were the initiators of this innovation. And this is where dogs are already allowed to be euthanized. Transbaikalia may become the fourth subject with this inhumane practice. The State Veterinary Service of the Trans-Baikal Territory refers to the need to reduce the budget burden and the lack of point in keeping animals that show unmotivated aggression or are unclaimed for life. The term “unmotivated aggression” can at least be discussed and an attempt can be made to provide a scientific basis for it. But the killing of unclaimed, that is, not actually adopted, animals under any circumstances does not meet the principles of humane treatment.

Shelter at the colony.

Now there are more than 50 dogs in the correctional facility, and their fate worries both convicts and simply concerned citizens. If the budget no longer allocates money for their maintenance (and about 140 rubles per day are required for each dog), then it is not clear why they should buy food. Well, the main thing is whether to wait for the arrival of specialists who will euthanize the unfortunate animals...

“Financing the development of the shelter on the territory of Penitentiary No. 3 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia in the Trans-Baikal Territory could occur in three ways,” Svetlana Alekseeva, an expert on inclusive treatment of animals, suggests a way out. — Through the implementation of public-private partnerships, attracting charitable funds, as well as through self-sufficiency. In any method, charitable foundations that implement comprehensive programs to eradicate animal neglect can provide comprehensive assistance to the colony.

Be that as it may, the experience of IC No. 3 is unique for Russia. And animal protection experts insist: it should definitely be extended throughout the country!

“Thanks to the active participation of convicts, animal shelters in colonies can be transformed into a real oasis of care and warmth,” Alekseeva believes. — Prisoners, paying attention to stray dogs, undergo not only physical, but also emotional rehabilitation. Many of them will be able to reveal their best spiritual qualities through the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the lives of other beings. And our main goal is to ensure that there are no homeless dogs on our streets (they shouldn’t be). And here the practice that is used in IC No. 3 is very promising.

It would also be nice to allow convicts to work in animal shelters after their release. More precisely, not even allow it (no one is prohibiting it), but create conditions and jobs. This would make it easier for them to adapt to normal life.

“I was like this dog - abandoned, useless, embittered,” says former convict Leonid. — I was trying to find a job, but I found a dog. As a result, my whole life changed. She saved me. And I her.

The author of these lines sent an appeal to the Ministry of Justice with a request to consider the issue of including the creation of shelters in colonies in the probation program. And to exercise control over them, include veterinarians and experts in the local PSC.

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