Inmates get therapy from pets

June 17, 2004

Pelham - What do you do to relieve stress? Maybe picking up a favorite book does the trick, but others pick up a cuddly puppy.

You're about to meet a man whose pets help unlock his shackles of depression.

Charles Hall loves teaching new dogs, new tricks. He says to the puppy, "Can you shake?You sweet thing, oh, you're getting lazy now?"

He's always had a passion for animals, so the animal lover shares his puppies with his roommates, who are inmates.

Hall is inmate # 358196. Hall adds, "I'm still a person in other people's eyes, but I'm a number to a computer. I've been in Autry State Prison, going on five years now."

The 43-year-old was locked up for burglary. Now he steals away the hearts of the little four legged guys.

The puppies venture inside the sharp barbed wire once a week, giving inmates with mental health problems, like Hall, something soft to touch. Hall gets licked by the puppy and says, "Oh, good gracious, that's what I look forward to right there."

Pet Therapy is as simple as a lick. Hall, surrounded by security wire, admits, "Being in the situation that I'm in it's kind of depressing. I try to find ways to keep myself busy. This one here wants to keep me busy, he wants to climb all over me."

Keeps him busy and gives him responsibility. Activity Therapist, Chad Cavender, says, "They [inmates] wash the dogs and are really concerned about the dogs welfare and health."

Hall laughs while playing with the spotted pup, "We call him Spotty, for now."And for now, Hall is stuck with stripes, one down each leg of his pants. Hall says, "I've got approximately 10 more years. Yeah, but we make the best of it as we can."

And the best days are when the four legged visitors come trotting in. Hall hopes, "That computer will eventually spit my name out and will say we'll lets look at this fellow, it's about time for him to go home."

Home. Where he can hold a pet, not only Thursdays, but any day of the week.

Warden Frederick Head brought back pet therapy at Autry State Prison at the beginning of this year.

Out of 1500 male inmates, more than 400 are in the pet therapy program.

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