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Prisoners prepare retired greyhound racers for family life

Saguaro Correctional Inmate Marwan Jackson works on the “stay” command with his greyhound. (Photo by Samie Gebers)

Saguaro Correctional Inmate Marwan Jackson works on the “stay” command with his greyhound. (Photo by Samie Gebers)

Sit. Down. Wait.

More than a dozen prisoners at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy spend their days working with former racing greyhounds to understand these commands.

They’re part of a unique program that allows prisoners at the private prison to rehabilitate and train the canines and prepare the dogs to go home with a family.

“Our primary purpose here is to take those canines and socialize them and get them ready for adoption, and we’ve been doing that through an inmate work program,” Warden Todd Thomas said.

Racing Home Greyhound Adoption, a Phoenix-based nonprofit dedicated to finding homes for former racing greyhounds, started the program in 2009.

Some racing greyhounds are confined in small cages for much of their lives, according to Massachusetts-based Grey2K USA. The advocacy group says greyhound racing is still legal and operational in six U.S. states. Arizona has prohibited live greyhound racing since 2016.

Prison officials say the program not only helps the greyhounds, it gives the prisoners an outlet.

“The love that they give me inside of this place is, you know, second to none,” said Marwan Jackson, who is serving time for manslaughter. “We don’t really don’t have no intimacy … and they kinda fill that void.”

He said taking care of the animals has helped him because it teaches responsibility and patience.

David Parker, who was convicted of murder, said he has lived more than half of his life behind bars. He said he can relate to his dog, Crusher.

“We wake up, and we look out the window and we see bars,” he said. “He wakes up, and he sees his bars. I think I’ve grown and matured since that time and hopefully become a better person in people’s eyes.”

Parker, who has trained more than 33 dogs, said the prisoners live with the dogs 24 hours a day. The cells have kennels equipped with blankets and toys. The dogs are taken out and walked on the prison grounds several times a day.

“We take care of them,” he said. “We’re responsible for everything about their entire lives, and you can’t help but be bonded with every dog that comes in.”

The dogs usually spend about three or four months in the program before they go out to a home.

The prisoners said it’s difficult to see their dogs leave, but they usually get a new one almost right away

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