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Tag: second chances

A gathering of second chancers

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Five years ago, Danny Rawley was an inmate in a North Carolina prison.

One year ago, my dog Jinjja was one of more than 100 dogs waiting to be slaughtered for their meat at a dog farm in South Korea.

Four weeks ago, I was on an operating table, having what doctors suspected was a cancerous kidney removed.

Recently, we all came together, proving not only that it’s a small world, but one that — thank goodness — often gives us second chances. And sometimes third, fourth and fifth ones as well.

Some backing up is in order.

jindolI adopted Jinjja last November from the Watauga Humane Society, which was hosting four dogs that were among a much larger group rescued from a dog farm in South Korea and brought to the United States for adoption.

He was fearful. He was skittish. He didn’t seem to much like men. But in the months that followed he made slow but steady progress, in everything except for his fear of meeting new human males and his tendency to run away if he experienced a small taste of freedom.

We made it to our first obedience class (and he did great) before I got ill, and, in a matter of weeks, found myself scheduled to have one of my kidneys removed.

Given the outlook beyond the surgery was uncertain, given the operation comes with a six-week no-heavy-lifting recovery period, given Jinjja’s tendencies to sometimes tug pretty hard on the leash, to be be slow to warm up to new people, and the escape risks he posed, I was hesitant to ask a friend to care for him.

I was contemplating surrendering him back to the Watauga Humane Society when a friend at the Forsyth Humane Society offered to take him into her own home. Darla Kirkeeng, the society’s director of development, volunteered to keep him as long as necessary — even after I warned her of his eccentricities and that he’d likely be slow to warm up to her husband.

But that’s where he has been since shortly before my surgery, living happily with Darla and her daughter, tolerating Darla’s husband, and joining her pack of two other rescued dogs, Luigi and Olivia.

DSC06532As if that act wasn’t gracious enough, Darla threw in a bonus, and arranged for Danny Rawley, a dog trainer, to drop by for a few sessions with Jinjja.

That’s where I met him recently when I dropped by Darla’s for my first visit with Jinjja since my surgery.

Despite my fears that being apart would harm the bond we’d developed, Jinjja remembered me and didn’t hesitate to approach and allow me to pet him and show him affection — something he doesn’t generally permit males to do.

Danny admitted Jinjja was skittish around him, too, and snarled and snapped at him during the first session.

Once leashed though, Jinjja paid attention to instructions and, as Danny demonstrated, made some great progress.

Danny also gave me some advice on working on recall — something Jinjja, if he accidentally gets unleashed outside, doesn’t begin to understand. The smallest taste of freedom, and he’s off and running, and gets into a mode where he will allow no one to approach.

My guess is that’s partly a trait of his breed (Jindo), a once wild breed that populated an island of the same name off the coast of Korea. Partly too it’s a result of the dog farm environment, where dogs live crated or chained, and anyone putting their hands on you was likely a sign that it was your turn to be slaughtered or taken to market.

Likely, it is something he will never fully overcome. Freedom, and the desire for it, are powerful forces, especially to any being that has had his freedom taken away.

DSC06516 (2)If anyone can relate to that, it’s Danny.

After growing up in Mt. Airy, he got caught up in selling drugs and, through that, using them.

“That turned my whole world around. I ended up hurting a man,” he said.

He was sentenced to 12 years. While serving that sentence at the state prison in Caledonia, a maximum security facility in the eastern part of the state, he learned of and enrolled in a newly started program called “New Leash on Life.”

In it, a inmates spent their days with dogs who lived on the grounds who were awaiting — but not always prepared for — adoption.

He jumped at the opportunity because of “my love for dogs for one thing, and wanting to put something positive in my life.”

As has been the experience with similar programs across the country, it worked, improving the lives and outlooks for both canine and human participants.

Danny remembers the first dog he was assigned — Lee, a coon dog mix who seemed pretty untrainable and also had a problem with recall. Jinjja reminded him of another dog he trained in prison, named Spirit, who was mostly feral, to the point she preferred eating bugs to eating dog food.

“She finally came around to be a great dog,” he said. In all, he probably trained 25 to 30 dogs while in prison, and just as he helped changed them, they helped change him.

DSC06542“When a dog and a man come together, somehow or another it changes your soul, that feeling that your care, that you believe, and it don’t go away … The more you work with dogs, the more you earn their trust. It’s all about trust.”

When the New Leash on Life program was launched, with funding from the humane society, at the Forsyth Correctional Center, Danny agreed to a transfer to help train inmates there to take part in the program.

He was released in 2012, after serving eight years, and was hired as an employee by the Forsyth Humane Society.

Danny, in addition to having his own business training dogs, is based at the facility and spends much of his time making house calls, going to the homes of people who are having issues with their recently adopted dogs.

The New Leash program at Forsyth Correctional Center is now on hiatus while the Humane Society undergoes a pretty big transition and restructuring. Since moving into a new building, its adoption rates have surged, and dogs are moving in and out more quickly. On top of that, there are plans for the society to assume all adoption services at Forsyth Animal Control, part of an ongoing effort to make Forsyth a “no-kill” county by 2023. The goal is to reduce the countywide euthanasia rate from 64 percent to 10 percent or less.

Under the proposal, the Humane Society would run the 215-kennel county shelter, possibly by as early as this fall.

It’s a massive joint effort between Animal Control, the Humane Society, the Animal Adoption & Rescue Foundation and other local rescue groups — aimed at better coordinating all agencies involved and giving thousands more dogs and cats a second chance.

And, as both Danny and Jinjja could probably attest, you can’t put a price tag on a second chance. I’d agree (though my hospital, judging from the one-foot high stack of unpaid bills on my desk, seems to do a pretty good job of it).

Though I’m down to my final kidney, my surgeon was pleased with how things went, confident that they removed all of the cancerous mass, and he has given me a positive prognosis with no need for follow-up treatments.

I’m feeling good enough to, as of today, fire ohmidog! back up and make it daily, or almost daily, again.

And, in about one more week, more or less, I’ll be ready to bring Jinjja back home.