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Inmates train shelter dogs to be model canine citizens


Jessica Knight put Leo through his paces.

“Down. Good down, Leo.” She fed the shepherd mix some kibble. “Stay. Good stay, Leo.” More kibble.

If you want to adopt a dog with Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club – the gold standard for good-dog behavior and basic obedience training – then you’ll want a dog that has spent six weeks in jail.

Knight, who is serving an 8-month sentence, is one of five female inmates at the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden who trains dogs as part of the Pups at the Pen program. The program started in 2016 in partnership with the Erie County SPCA. The program has recently been upgraded to turn untrained dogs into nationally certified, model-worthy pets.

“The Canine Good Citizen program really wasn’t designed for shelter life,” said Matt Cicatello, the SPCA’s director of behavior and training.

Living with inmates offers a more homelike environment for dogs.

“I hate to say they get freedom when they go out to a jail, but they do,” he said.

The benefit isn’t one-way. Pups at the Pen helps inmates.

Of 61 women who have participated in the jail program since its inception, only 15 have returned. That represents a reoffense rate of 25%, more than three times less than the overall reoffense rate for both the Holding Center and Correctional Facility, said Thomas Diina, superintendent of the Erie County Sheriff’s Jail Management Division.

Pups at the Pen is one of two animal programs at the Correctional Facility. While female inmates train rescue dogs, roughly 60 male inmates a year raise pheasants – 1,800 this year alone – to help restock state forests prior to fall hunting season.

The Pups at the Pen program provides inmates affection and teaches them compassion and empathy.

“It helps being with them when I’m here,” said inmate Nicole Andrews, who said she has mental health and anxiety issues.

Housing the program

Both the Erie County Holding Center and the Correctional Facility are part of the same county jail system.

But the rural Alden facility houses about 420 inmates who tend to be low- to medium-risk offenders. The correctional facility also has more room to house inmate rehabilitation programs involving animals.

Pups at the Pen is modeled after programs at state prisons. Since 2016, female inmates at the Correctional Facility have trained 47 dogs.

Diina recalled a few memorable canine trainees.

There was Chowder, a hyperactive and hulking 81-pound dog who also happened to be deaf. She was such a tough case that she went through the six-week program twice. She ultimately was adopted.

Then there was a female dog who came to the correctional facility with a litter of puppies.

“I thought there was going to be a fight in the staff dining room about who was going to get to adopt them,” Diina said.

The inmate trainers last completed training with Caesar, a shy Doberman with separation anxiety issues. When he left, the inmates were bereft.

“It was very emotional,” Knight said.

Life behind bars

The Pups at the Pen housing unit is home to five inmates, who now work with two 6-month old dogs, Leo and Athena, a Rottweiler mix.

Inmate participants are nonviolent offenders with a clean track record in jail. The group includes women convicted on burglary, DWI and drug charges.

The dogs sent to live with the inmates have no major behavior issues but come to the SPCA without any training at all, Cicatello said. Some dogs might have special needs or be too loud or boisterous in a shelter environment to be a first choice for prospective owners.

Within a week of Leo’s and Athena’s appearance at the jail, they’ve been housebroken and learned how to sit, lie down, “leave it” and make eye contact on cue despite distractions.

The inmates say they bond more strongly with each other, as well as the dogs, even though they may start out with little in common. It’s a program that fosters growth for everyone, said inmate Savannah Adams.

Baughman was sentenced to jail for 8 1/2 months after failing a court-mandated drug program. She says the dogs give her hope that she can survive in the outside world without drugs or alcohol.

“I can be happy without drinking,” she said. “The dogs make that possible.”

Canine Good Citizen

Within the last two months, the Pups at the Pen program has upgraded its training program so that dogs entering the Correctional Facility aren’t just taught basic obedience but are taught behavioral and obedience skills that meet the Canine Good Citizen certification requirements of the American Kennel Club. This certification is required by most therapy dog groups.

Aside from learning basic commands, the dogs must be accepting of friendly strangers, allow themselves to be petted by people they don’t know, respond to sudden distractions without panic or aggression, behave politely toward other dogs, and withstand temporary separation from their owner without whining or agitation.

A staffer from Sit n’ Stay Pet Services in Orchard Park travels to the Correctional Facility once a week to educate the inmates on training techniques to enable dogs to meet the Canine Good Citizen standard.

The intensive training could not easily be offered by the SPCA because it doesn’t offer the same consistency and structure, said Kim Sauer, owner of Sit n’ Stay.

“It is, in my opinion, a little more like what the family dynamic would be in a real home,” she said.

With all the training, even if the dogs don’t pass the Good Canine Citizen test at the end of six weeks, they’re still appealing to prospective adopters, who can complete the training, Sauer said.

Pheasant rearing

Pups at the Pen is limited to female inmates now, but male inmates at the Correctional Facility look after another animal – the feathered kind. Since 2016, they have raised nearly 5,000 pheasants as part of a game bird restocking program sponsored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, which runs from early May to mid-October.

The program started in 2016 with inmates raising 1,500 birds that year from newborn hatchlings to full-grown birds with bright flags of color around the eyes. This year, inmates are raising 1,800 birds, the highest number yet.

“When we first got the babies, I didn’t realize how cute they were,” said inmate Mark Evans, referring to the first batch of 850 egg-sized hatchlings that first crowded under the heat lamps in the hay-filled shed.

“They looked like little Tweety birds,” said inmate Lamont Hamilton. “The best part is seeing them grow, watching them mature.”

The worst part – the smell.

As the pheasants get older, inmates attach foam or plastic blinders to obscure their forward vision so they don’t attack other birds. Then they are released into large, grassy flight pens with bell-shaped feeders and shelters for shade. When they are released into state-owned forests in Zoar Valley each fall, the inmates who helped look after the birds travel there to watch the release.

“They’re pretty psyched,” said corrections officer Bill Moss, who supervises the pheasant program. “It’s a good behavior-modification tool. They don’t want to get into any incidents in the jail that’s going to jeopardize their participation in the program.”

The pheasant program has grown the past three years. But Pups at the Pen has not – limited by the number of eligible inmates who want to participate, said corrections sergeant Deanna Lates. Limited access to outdoor grass is also a factor.

Cicatello, the SPCA’s director of behavior and training, and Diina said they would like see the program grow.

“I think the more we get people excited about the program, the more there will be a desire to expand,” Cicatello said.

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Patty Ralabate, discussing her work with Star 102.5 FM’s Roger Christian during one of the SPCA’s annual Radiothons

August 23, 2019

Next week, our own Patty Ralabate will be retiring from the SPCA.

Patty has been affiliated with this organization either as a volunteer (Petique, Veterinary Department, Adoptions, and Admissions) and/or as an employee (Adoptions, Admissions) for 23 years! Patty worked as Volunteer Rescue Coordinator for the SPCA part of the time she was an employee, communicating with rescue organization representatives, maintaining the database of the SPCA’s approved rescue groups, and engaging in the transports of those rescue dogs brought to our organization.

Transports have been a large part of Patty’s work during her tenure at the SPCA. She helped coordinate transports between southern states and into Canada for various rescue groups. Patty, who transported dogs between the US and Canada as well as within the US (New York, Pennsylvania), also maintained the database and assisted in aquiring volunteers to participate in different legs of transport runs, often monitoring some of the runs to ensure they were glitch-free. If there were problems, Patty smoothed them over.

Patty also obtained farm dogs and dogs from puppy mills during her many trips to Ohio, sometimes attending auctions to rescue these dogs from harsh treatment. She is a founding member of Furever Friends Dog Rescue of WNY, is currently the Intake Coordinator and a writer for that organization, creates and maintains records and statistics for each of their transports, and if that’s not enough, she is at the SPCA to personally meet every Furever Friends transport. You may see Patty representing Furever Friends at various events, educating members of the public on the link between pet stores, the Internet, and puppy mills.

We asked Patty about some of her favorite SPCA memories. She said that, in addition to Furever Friends becoming a respected partner of the SPCA, one of her fondest memories is of the day former executive director Barbara Carr agreed to accept Patty’s first four dogs from a puppy mill dog auction: two Pomeranians and two Cocker Spaniels.

When asked what has meant the most to Patty here at the SPCA, she responded in this way: “Just the fact that, even on the busiest day, or the most emotional day, or during truly tragic events that occur on any given workday at the shelter, I have been so blessed to be considered both an employee and a volunteer with an organization to works tirelessly for the good of all animals. I never once had the feeling, ‘I don’t want to go to work today!’ And I have been surrounded by a whole army of people who feel the same way! “

We know Patty’s pets Corrie, Lilly, Farren, Aubree, and Shea, will be thrilled to have her around more often, and we know thousands of pets’ lives will continue to be enriched by Patty’s work. She has dedicated her life to making each little life she touches better, and we’re honored she has spent so much of her time bettering the lives of the animals and people at the SPCA!

–Gina Lattuca, SPCA Chief Communications Officer

Williamsville Central schools approve new therapy dog policy

The policy allows district employees to potentially bring their dogs to school, if they meet the proper criteria.

See video and read the full story here >>




Starting Monday, August 19 for 19 days, the SPCA Serving Erie County will bring back its Name Your Own Price adoption special for kittens and cats ages 20 weeks and older. The adoption special will run through Friday, September 6 and applies to felines temporarily residing at the SPCA’s 300 Harlem Rd., West Seneca site, or one of several offsite adoption locations.

Included with the adoption is the cat’s spay/neuter surgery; age-appropriate vaccinations; initial worming; flea control medicine; feline leukemia test; microchip; temporary identification; a certificate for the new pet’s first physical examination at the SPCA’s Lipsey Clinic or at the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society’s veterinarian of choice; the option of a 30-day pet health insurance plan provided by 24PetWatch; and while supplies last, a bag of Purina cat food.

See photos of cats available in West Seneca here, and for a list of offsite adoption locations along with photos of cats available at those sites, click here.  Questions about Name Your Own Price adoptions? Call SPCA Adoptions:  716-875-7360, ext. 233.

See the story on WKBW-TV >>

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See the story in Bee Publications >>

UPDATE, AUGUST 16, 2019: Jarrod Dillman appeared in Buffalo City Court this morning. He has waived his felony hearing and his case will now proceed to the grand jury. Please keep watching for further information on this animal cruelty case.


August 13, 2019


Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announces that 23-year-old Jarrod Dillman of Buffalo has been arraigned before Buffalo City Court Judge Barbara Johnson-Lee on one count of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals, a felony, and one count of overdriving, torturing and injuring animals; failure to provide proper sustenance, a misdemeanor.

It is alleged that on Saturday, August 3, 2019, the defendant, while working as a [daycare attendant and bather] at PawPrints by Penny & Co. on Niagara Street in the City of Buffalo, caused the death of “Alessio,” a three-year-old Havanese, by throwing the dog against a wall and repeatedly kicking the dog while wearing boots. The preliminary necropsy results determined that the dog died as a result of blunt force trauma.

Dillman is scheduled to return on Friday, August 16, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. for a felony hearing. Judge Johnson-Lee set bail at $5,000 cash, bond or property.

DA Flynn commends the SPCA Serving Erie County, including Officers Paul LeShay, Amy Jaworski and Lindsey Styborski, for their work in this investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Erin E. Hart of the DA’s Animal Cruelty Unit.

As are all persons accused of a crime, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.



Dog day care attendant arraigned on felony aggravated animal cruelty charge

By Harold McNeil
Published August 13, 2019|Updated August 13, 2019

An attendant for a Buffalo dog groomer was arraigned Tuesday in Buffalo City Court on a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals, after an animal in his care died, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors said 23-year-old Jarrod Dillman of Buffalo was additionally charged with overdriving, torturing and injuring an animal, as well as failure to provide proper sustenance.

“We’re horrified and saddened by the death of the dog that was in our care, and this is the first that I’ve learned that he was arrested,” said Penelope Lanich, proprietor of PawPrints by Penny & Co., when contacted by The Buffalo News Tuesday.

“We’ve been working closely with the SPCA to make sure justice is served here,” she added.

On Aug. 3, while working as a day care employee at PawPrints by Penny & Co. on Niagara Street in Buffalo, Dillman allegedly caused the death of a 3-year-old Havanese named Alessio by throwing the dog against a wall and repeatedly kicking the animal while Dillman was wearing boots. The preliminary necropsy results have determined that the dog died as a result of blunt force trauma, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Dillman initially was identified by the District Attorney’s Office as a dog groomer at PawPrints, but Lanich said that is not a position Dillman ever held at the business during his 1 1/2 years of employment there.

“I’ve been in business for over 15 years and I’ve never had anything like this happen,” Lanich said.

Dillman is scheduled to return to court Friday for a felony hearing before City Court Judge Barbara Johnson-Lee, who set bail at $5,000.



 August 8, 2019


Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announces that 53-year-old Elizabeth Tyler of Buffalo pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice Paul B. Wojtaszek to one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a Class “E” felony.

The defendant admitted that between January 1, 2015 and June 20, 2019, she stole $30,784.13 while working at the SPCA Serving Erie County. An audit conducted by the SPCA uncovered the theft, which was reported to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

As part of her plea, Tyler agreed to pay full restitution by the date of her sentencing, which is scheduled for Monday, November 4, 2019 at 2 p.m. This morning, she appeared in court with her attorney who indicated that a check in the amount of $15,392 will be paid to the SPCA Serving Erie County by tomorrow morning.

DA Flynn commends the SPCA Serving Erie County and Detective Dan Brinkerhoff of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for their work on the case.

The case was prosecuted by Chief Candace K. Vogel of the DA’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit.


August 8, 2019: The SPCA Serving Erie County adds to District Attorney Flynn’s comments that Tyler was terminated from her position earlier this year. The investigation referenced above determined that the total of $30,784.13 represented payment for services, and did not include donations received by the SPCA.

Community Members Donate Hundreds of Supplies to SPCA Serving Erie County Through Senator Mike Ranzenhofer’s Donation Drive

August 7, 2019
By: SPCA Chief Communications Officer Gina Lattuca

Senator Mike Ranzenhofer, in cooperation with Amherst Town Clerk Jeffrey Zeplowitz and Clarence Town Clerk Nancy Metzger, spent the month of July hosting a donation drive for the animals here at the SPCA Serving Erie County!

Earlier this summer, Senator Ranzenhofer said, “I am pleased to be hosting a donation drive for the SPCA.  The SPCA has saved countless animals and does wonderful work. I am happy to be giving back to them [and] appreciate Clerks Metzger and Zeplowitz having drop-off locations at their offices.”

August 7, 2019 was drop-off day at the SPCA’s West Seneca shelter. SPCA Annual Giving Manager Phil Weiss welcomed Senator Ranzenhofer, his team, and especially their big truck full of donations! See the video here!

Thanks to each and every community member who contributed, and tail wags to Senator Ranzenhofer and Town Clerks Metzger and Zeplowitz for supporting the animals helped by our humane society!

See more on this year’s drive here >>

For Immediate Release: 7/31/2019 GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO



Governor Cuomo: “Leaving a pet in a stifling hot or freezing cold car is inhumane and potentially dangerous, and emergency responders should have the ability to remove them if necessary. As a dog owner myself, I am proud to sign this measure into law to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of animals.”

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation (S.5045/A.7053) authorizing firefighters and other emergency medical responders to remove animals in unattended motor vehicles under conditions that endanger their health or well-being. This legislation will help reduce wait times when calls are made to 911 that a pet is in danger, especially in areas and at times when law enforcement or animal control availability is limited. The bill goes into effect immediately.

“Leaving a pet in a stifling hot or freezing cold car is inhumane and potentially dangerous, and emergency responders should have the ability to remove them if necessary,” Governor Cuomo said. “As a dog owner myself, I am proud to sign this measure into law to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of animals.”

Senator Kenneth P. LaValle said, “By authorizing emergency medical service personnel and firefighters to remove animals from cars in extreme heat or cold situations, we reduce wait times saving critical minutes and the lives of innocent animals. In areas with limited police resources, this new law becomes even more important as it expands the number of emergency personnel who can respond to a desperate situation where a helpless animal is in imminent danger and the owner cannot be located.  Too often we hear stories about an animal who has died due to the reckless behavior of its owner.  This measure will offer greater protections to our precious pets and penalize those who put them in harms way.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele said, “In the summer months, we are reminded of the danger that the confinement of pets in motor vehicles can pose when temperatures inside vehicles can soar to life-threatening extremes within minutes. This important measure will result in the saving of beloved pets’ lives in these dangerous situations by substantially expanding who can respond to a pet in distress. Firefighters and EMS personnel are equipped and trained to act in these situations. This will allow our firefighters to put that training to good use when a pet is threatened by extreme temperatures in a motor vehicle.”


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