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Putting Puppies Behind Bars (For A Good Cause)
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross.
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross. We start todayâs Animal Week edition with a
story about dogs and people helping each other. For years, dogs have been
trained to guide the visually impaired, search for missing people and sniff for
bombs and drugs, but puppies are now being taught to help people who have
psychiatric problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Weâre going to hear from an Iraq War vet who relies on his service dog in ways
that will surprise you, but thereâs another part of the story. His black lab,
and nearly 500 other service dogs, have been trained by prison inmates through
a program called Puppies Behind Bars.
Under the program, inmates who apply and are accepted are matched with a pup
who lives with them in prison and learns dozens of commands necessary for
physical or psychiatric assistance or bomb-sniffing.
Our guests are Gloria Gilbert Stoga, who started Puppies Behind Bars in 1997,
Nora Moran, a former inmate who trained dogs and now works for the program and
Paul Bang-Knudsen, a retired Marine corporal who was wounded in Iraq. They
spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.
DAVE DAVIES: Gloria Gilbert Stoga, Nora Moran and Paul Bang-Knudsen, welcome
all of you to FRESH AIR. Gloria, let me turn to you first. The inmate gets the
puppy at eight weeks old. Is that right?
Ms.Â GLORIA GILBERT STOGA (Founder, Puppies Behind Bars): Yes.
DAVIES: And then just tell us a little bit about kind of how long theyâre
there, what the routine is, what kind of training they do.
Ms.Â STOGA: We raise two kinds of dogs in prison. One are bomb-sniffing dogs,
explosive detection canines, which we started after the terrorist attacks of
September 11; and the other service dogs for wounded veterans, such as Paul.
If itâs a bomb-sniffing dog, it stays with us for about a year. If itâs a
service dog, it stays with us for about a year and a half or two years. In both
cases, even though the training is wildly different, the bonding, the love, the
nurturing, the constant care and the full responsibility for a live being is
the same, regardless of type of training the dogâs undergoing and regardless of
whether itâs a male or a female inmate who is the puppy-raiser - as we call
DAVIES: The dogs, do they live with the inmate 24/7 in their cell?
Ms.Â STOGA: Yes, yes. They live in the cells with the inmates 24/7. Thereâs a
kennel thatâs set up in every cell. We have an extensive volunteer network of
400 volunteers who agree to take the puppies out of prison, either for a couple
of hours or for a weekend, so that the dogs can get exposed to the real world.
If the dogs only grew up in prison, they would be extremely well-behaved,
theyâd be very well-loved, but they would become concerned when a bus went by
or when a kid came by, you know, on a skateboard or something like that.
So we have an extensive volunteer network that does take the dogs out of
prison, and every single weekend, we run two puppy shuttles into Manhattan,
where the dogs spend a weekend getting used to the urban chaos of New York. So
we have an extensive volunteer network that does take the dogs out of prison,
and every single weekend, we run two puppy shuttles into Manhattan, where the
dogs spend a weekend getting used to the urban chaos of New York.
DAVIES: Okay, so they get their training in prison, but they get acclimated to
civilian life on the weekends.
Ms.Â STOGA: Yes.
DAVIES: Now, tell us about the training that the inmates actually perform. How
many hours a week, how difficult is it? What do the dogs learn?
Ms.Â STOGA: For the explosive detection canines, we teach them a couple of
things. We teach them to use their noses rather than their eyes to find a
hidden object. We teach them to go into a room and do a search pattern so that
theyâre literally sniffing every single surface in the room, and we teach them
to be well-behaved.
For the service dogs, we teach them 85 different commands - five of which we
made up, and Paul actually gave us one to make up - that our soldiers and
Marines have told us would be useful in their lives with our dogs.
That includes everything from picking up an object, opening a door, holding the
door open, getting a water bottle out of the refrigerator, turning on and off
The specialized commands, which Paul may well address, are specifically for
wounded warriors with PTSD and/or traumatic brain injury.
DAVIES: That sounds like dozens of commands to learn.
Ms.Â STOGA: Itâs dozens of commands. To answer your question, how long are the
dogs trained, theyâre trained throughout the day in small segments that A, itâs
easier for the dog to learn; and B, itâs more humane.
So when the inmate is â the dogs go everywhere with the inmate. So if the
inmate is in a class, if the inmate is in a vocational program, if the inmateâs
going on a visit with his family, the dog goes with the inmate. So basic
commands like sit, down, stay are reinforced throughout the day. Itâs not a
training period, per se.
The specialized commands, yes, the inmates may train for 20 minutes here, 10
minutes there. It depends on how quickly the dog learns.
DAVIES: You know, dogs do have personalities. Do you - can you tell, Gloria,
when one wonât work, or are there some kinds of personalities that would work
better, for example, for bomb sniffing as opposed to other service?
Ms.Â STOGA: Well, the funny thing is, Samba started out as a bomb sniffer. I
mean, Paul can talk about that, but â and you know what? She would have made a
great bomb sniffer, but she had such a wonderful, outgoing but mellow
personality that when she was about, I donât remember, maybe around five months
old, I said look, you know, she could be a great bomb sniffer, but I think she
could really work with a wounded soldier.
So we switched her. She was originally raised in a menâs prison, and thatâs
when we switched her to the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. So yes, dogs
absolutely have different personalities, and dogs have different penchant for
training. And we just switched some puppies that we thought were going to be
service dogs, we tried them out for a couple of months, and they just, they
didnât like the training. They just werenât focusing on the commands. So we
just moved them over to be bomb sniffers, where itâs going to, we think, better
match with their personalities.
DAVIES: So the kind of personality that works better as a bomb sniffer is one,
what, can handle a little less complexity, maybe?
Ms.Â STOGA: I actually liken it to the bomb-sniffing dog is the dog who is going
to be more out front, whoâs going to make decisions. The service dog is the dog
thatâs going to constantly look up at the owner and the handler and say what do
you want me to do now? Do you want me to open the door? Do you want me to do
got my back? Do you want me to turn on that light?
So the bomb sniffer is kind of more in your face, if you will, and the service
dog is more, okay, tell me whatâs next, and Iâll do it.
DAVIES: Do you think that there is something about the life of a prison inmate
that makes them particularly well-suited for this kind of work? Obviously,
theyâre available, but is there anything about their experience that you think
makes this work?
Ms.Â STOGA: I think the emotion fragility of inmates makes it work. Those us who
have dogs, know dogs, or any animal for that matter, know that dogs love
unconditionally; know that dogs have this extraordinary ability to heal. And I
have heard time and time again from inmates, saying that they will tell their
dog things that theyâve never told anybody else.
Their dog doesnât care what their crime was. Their dog doesnât care what their
social status in life is. All the dog cares about is that this person loves me,
this person takes care of me, this person feeds me, and in return, I give
kisses and love 24 hours a day.
So I think that the emotional fragility of inmates, yes, makes them good
trainers. I also think that for the right inmate, the ability to contribute to
society, while incarcerated, is unique. And we look for men and women who say
okay, I committed a horrendous crime. I want to do something positive, and I
want to do something positive, not just for myself but, much more importantly,
I want to do something positive for others. That combination, I think, makes
inmates extraordinary dog trainers.
DAVIES: You know, I hear some real emotion in your voice as you describe that.
These relationships must be really powerful for you to witness and experience.
Ms.Â STOGA: They are. When we get started talking with Paul, youâre going to
hear more emotion because working with our wounded warriors is just so deeply
gratifying. It is. We see transformations constantly. We see inmates who were
withdrawn. I mean, there are so parallels - and Paul may address this later -
there are a lot of parallels between the wounded warriors who are prisoners in
their own homes and the inmates who are prisoners in prison. But the inmates
who are withdrawn, who are perhaps shell-shocked for lack of a better word, the
dog brings them out; The team, because itâs team effort to raise a dog, brings
them out. People really blossom. So I see that month after month, year after
year, and yes, itâs something thatâs very gratifying to me.
DAVIES: I want to turn to you, Nora Moran. Youâre a former inmate. Youâre now a
staff member for Puppies Behind Bars. First just tell us a little bit about
what landed you in jail and how long you were there before you became connected
with the program.
Ms.Â NORA MORAN (Staff Member, Puppies Behind Bars): Well, I became incarcerated
at age 17 for armed robbery. I was a really angry, lost, confused, young
adolescent girl, and I used that anger to lash out at innocent people.
So when I became incarcerated, I needed to understand that I didnât want to be
a person who created damage in the world. I wanted to be a person who was a
vehicle for healing and growth.
So two years after I became incarcerated, I joined Puppies Behind Bars and
started realizing that dream of being able to be a vehicle for healing and
DAVIES: Tell us about your first puppy.
Ms.Â MORAN: My first puppy, his name was Mr.Â Bill. He was a black lab. He was
actually started by another raiser who was then transferred to another
facility. And after two months of being in the program, Gloria decided that I
had worked so hard and become so skilled that sheâd give me a chance to raise a
So Bill was four months old when I became his primary raiser, and once he
learned how to walk, he was absolutely one of the easiest dogs Iâve trained
yet. He was a great dog.
DAVIES: Was learning to walk an issue for Mr.Â Bill?
Ms.Â MORAN: Learning to walk, yes. He did not want to leave the housing unit. He
was used to being carried and kind of pampered. So asking him to leave his
comfort zones was a bit of a challenge, but once he got that going, he was easy
to go from there.
DAVIES: He didnât know he was in for the life of a working dog yet, huh?
(Soundbite of laughter)
DAVIES: You know, having a dog with you all the time, sleeping in your cell,
must have set you apart from other inmates. How do you think it changed the way
you were perceived and treated by others in the prison?
Ms.Â MORAN: Well, it definitely made me become a role model to my peers. In
order to be a part of Puppies Behind Bars, as an inmate, you really have to
understand that itâs about a lot of sacrifice.
There are a number of programs, specifically in Bedford Hills Correctional
Facilities, that any inmate can choose to participate in, but to be a puppy
raiser means that you have to put the puppies absolutely first and foremost in
your life, and that means you canât participate in some of the other things
that other inmates would participate in - like recreational activities,
DAVIES: Why would having the dog prevent you from engaging in recreational and
educational activities in the prison?
Ms.Â MORAN: Because working with a dog is a 24/7 commitment. And that commitment
to take care of the dogâs grooming needs, exercise needs and training needs
takes over a huge portion of your day.
We say that the puppyâs learning something every moment itâs awake. And as you
know, little puppies, theyâre full of life and energy and want to explore, and
some of them donât sleep very much. So itâs a huge responsibility, and some
people canât juggle both.
DAVIES: This may be a silly practical question, but you know, if a puppy wants
to start yapping and youâre, you know, in a cell block full of a lot of other
inmates that might not appreciate it, is that an issue?
Ms.Â MORAN: Well, luckily, the puppy program exists on units where everybody
living in those units understands that certain things are going to happen on
those units that donât exist in the rest of population. So, we do set it up
where people are more tolerant of that, but we also teach the puppies of eight
weeks of age on not to bark. Of course, they do on occasion, especially when
they first arrive, but that doesnât last very long.
DAVIES: You know, if youâre really with the animal 24/7, for a year or a year
and a half, it must be awfully hard to say goodbye.
Ms.Â MORAN: It is awfully hard, but itâs kind of like sending them off to puppy
college. We understand that the year or year and a couple months that we spend
pouring our love and pouring our commitment into that dog, that dog is going to
go off and share that same love with a veteran returning from war, and it gives
that love to society before we get there. So itâs an incredibly â it fills us
with pride, as well as tinged in a little bit of sadness.
DAVIES: That was Nora Moran. She works with the program, Puppies Behind Bars.
Also with us, the programâs founder, Gloria Gilbert Stoga, and Paul Bang-
Knudsen, who has a dog from the program, and he was wounded in Iraq. Weâll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: If youâre just joining us, weâre talking about the program Puppies
Behind Bars, in which prison inmates train animals to assist wounded veterans
to become bomb-sniffing dogs and perform other tasks.
With us are the programâs founder, Gloria Gilbert Stoga; Nora Moran, she is
also an administrator of the program and was an inmate who trained dogs at one
point; and also with us is Paul Bang-Knudsen. He is an injured veteran who has
a dog now.
Well, Paul Bang-Knudsen, letâs talk about your story. I mean, first of all, you
were a corporal in the Marine Corps in Iraq, right?
Corporal PAUL BANG-KNUDSEN (Veteran, U.S. Marine Corps): Thatâs right.
DAVIES: Tell us how you were injured.
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: We were in a Special Forces unit, a Marine force recon,
reconnaissance duty, and we drove into an area near Syria and engaged in a â
got ambushed, simply. And I suffered gunshot wounds - to the leg and some
concussive IEDs and RPGs. So pretty much, they threw the book at us, and that
pretty much, you know, changed sort of the landscape of my own life.
DAVIES: Iâm sure, yeah.
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: I was removed from the battlefield in expedited fashion and
back to California, eventually, for about a year. And now Iâm â you know, this
is about three years later, Iâm here in Seattle, Washington. And, you know, I
had some problems with isolation and starting to - sort of the PTSD signature
is sort of experiencing things out in the civilian population that startle you
and, you know, people term them as flashbacks or sort of re-experiencing based
So that can happen in a supermarket or wherever, and itâs not really a socially
acceptable behavior. So what tends to happen is sort of an isolation process,
and as I was becoming isolated, I was understanding that something was going
wrong and I, you know, kind of knew that this was an issue, you know. So the VA
is making all kind of efforts to mitigate this disability and return to a
healthy lifestyle. So thatâs how I found out about this program, Puppies Behind
DAVIES: If I can just ask, do you have physical impairments in addition to the
post-traumatic stress disorder?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Yes, I do. I got shot in the leg and I lost a lot of muscle
and thereâs nerve damage there. So, you know, I walk with a minor limp, I
suppose, but other than that, itâs pretty â itâs very much an invisible injury
in that, like, you know, I can walk around and people donât necessarily guess
DAVIES: Well, tell us about getting Samba, your dog. Well, describe her for us,
if you will.
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Sambaâs a black lab, and most people that come up ask or
say, is she English? And sheâs a smaller variety and, you know, sheâs an
incredibly adorable dog. And itâs something that, you know, she almost creates
a crowd, or people do notice this dog. She is a black-coated dog that, you
know, with a very shiny coat.
DAVIES: And there in the studio with you, right?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: And she is on the floor of the studio today. She wears her
service cape. I always wear this â or she has this service cape that identifies
her as a Puppies Behind Bars service dog for veterans of the Dog Tags program.
And thereâs a, you know, do not distract patch on there.
We just got cards from the Puppies Behind Bars program, you know, that weâre
able to give out now. And they say: Iâm a veteran who fought in Iraq or
Afghanistan and have post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.
My service dog assists me through my daily routines. Please do not pet her, as
it distracts her from doing her job.
So you know, itâs â I live in a community thatâs fairly knowledgeable of
service dogs. So I donât have a lot of problems. Itâs - when I, you know, go
out into, I guess, tourist areas or, you know, I went to the Museum of Flight,
Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian, and it was a different story than my
It was a bit of a spectacle because itâs such a cute dog, but itâs one of the
things that she really is doing a job for me, soâ¦
DAVIES: Paul Bang-Knudsen was a corporal in the Marine Corps when she was
wounded in Iraq. Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded the program Puppies Behind Bars,
and Nora Moran is a former inmate who now works in the program. Theyâll be back
in the second half of the show. Iâm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
We're talking about an innovative program called Puppies Behind Bars in which
pups are sent to live in prison with an inmate, who trains the dog to either
sniff for bombs or assist someone with a physical or psychiatric condition,
like posttraumatic stress disorder. Our guests are Gloria Gilbert Stoga, who
founded the program, Nora Moran, a former inmate who trained dogs and now works
with the program, and Paul Bang-Knudsen, an Iraq war vet who suffers from
posttraumatic stress disorder and has a service dog named Samba.
Could you describe some of the difficulties that you were having and how Samba
helps day to day?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Sure. Samba has been trained specifically to mitigate the -
my startle response. For example, any supermarket I remind - I think about like
a Costco or something, you know, maybe a larger store with big aisles and
walking around those corners is a stressor for me. And when - I think
everybody's run into someone like coming around and meeting at the
intersections of the aisles if, you know, youâre coming around the corner, a
blind corner in a supermarket. And while the normal reaction is, you know,
excuse me, or you can laugh it off, the startle response for someone with PTSD,
who already has their hypervigilance up, is something that it increases and can
lead to sort of flashbacks of memories of war and being, you know, in a
survival instinct, fight or flight situation.
So one of the commands that Gloria was speaking of earlier is we have Samba pop
the corner, and what she does is she walks slightly ahead of me and simply
looks around corners and identifies whether or not there's people there to me
by stopping and looking at me. And we have what's called synchrony and Samba
and I have been paired long enough that we are working together and are on the
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: So that's one specific task or a skill trained to mitigate
my disability. She also does things like standing in line, she knows to watch
my back and that is the same sort of thing. If anyone basically - it's not like
an aggressive dog in any way, but she will notify me if someone is coming to
tap me on the shoulder or startle me in any other way I guess. So she performs
DAVIES: And how does she notify you? Yeah. How does she notify you?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: She performs a block and, I guess, reaches out to greet that
person, so she removes herself from a sit to greet the person. And she also
does a block which would create basically a body bubble of space between the
person and myself.
DAVIES: Gloria Gilbert Stoga, you run this program. These are really
fascinating things to hear.
Ms. STOGA: And I'd like to follow-up on something Paul just said. We at this
point have paired 15 veterans with our dogs and I feel that we learn from each
and every one. We learn from the mistakes we make, but we also learn from the
vets what they need. And it was actually Paul who taught us pop-the-corner. It
was in training and you were going into a room I believe, Paul, and Samba went
ahead of you and she looked to the left and she looked to your right and you
said she just popped a corner. And we said what in heaven's name is that? And
you said dog looked left, dog looked right. I know it's safe to enter that
room. As a result, a hundred percent of our dogs since Samba are now taught
that command. So itâs really cool that the veterans help us understand what
they need in their service dog.
DAVIES: Yeah. Let me ask either of you: in what are some other specific ways
that dogs are trained to help vets with posttraumatic stress?
Ms. STOGA: Another one of our veterans whose flashbacks are physically
debilitating - and he ends up oftentimes on the floor in the fetal position.
His wife went shopping one day, left Alan home with the dog, came back from the
supermarket and Frankie, the dog was standing at the front door. And Gina, the
wife thought that's weird. Why isn't Frankie with Alan? Oh well, went back to
the car, got more of the groceries. Frankie, the dog was still at the front
door. At that point Gina said, oh my God, there's something wrong and she went
running down the hallway. And there is Alan on the floor in a fetal position
completely unresponsive. When we heard that, we said weâve got to do something
if the dog and the soldier are alone and there's no human there. So since then
weâve taught all of our dogs to literally dial 9-1-1 on a phone.
Not only on the command help, but if all of a sudden I were to stop talking or
if I were to fall out of my chair, the dog would be cued to dial 9-1-1. So
that's another example of a real life situation: Veteran gets home with one of
our dogs and says, hey, I could use this in my real life because it happens to
DAVIES: How does the dog know to dial 9-1-1?
Ms. STOGA: I'll tell you the secret.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. STOGA: It's a large phone. Generally, it's a phone for the visually
impaired. And it's a wall phone and each of the numbers are preprogrammed 9-1-
1. So we - every single command we teach we break down into basics. So first we
taught the dog to go to the phone, literally with its mouth, take the receiver
off, and then with its nose press anyone of those buttons, each of which will
And one of the inmates actually rigged up that once the button's pressed a
light goes on so both the dog, I guess, probably more the humans can see hey,
dog made enough contact. And then the dog goes right back to the soldier or the
inmate who's pretending to be a soldier on the floor. And we'll repeat that if,
indeed, help doesn't come. But that's how we taught it: get the phone, take the
receiver, push with your nose, and any one of these buttons will do it.
DAVIES: And are they suppose to bark once, you know the emergency personnel
come on the line?
Ms. STOGA: Good question. We don't teach them that. One of the other things
weâve learned - and Paul, this maybe different for you and I'd actually be
interested - is at least in some of the small towns in which our veterans live
the local emergency and police know that there's a veteran at that house with
posttraumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury, so if there were a
9-1-1 call from the house, immediately the medical or law, you know, would go
to the house because they're already preprogrammed, that someone lives there
who could need help.
Paul, I don't know if that exists for you or not that your local EMS or
whomever knows that you might need help?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: They have a list I guess. But it's any time 9-1-1 is called
in our area it's dispatched, so no one has to say anything necessarily.
DAVIES: Right. Big cities have computer-aided dispatch in which the...
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Exactly.
DAVIES: ...the address of the number pops right up for the operator. Is there
another example of - like that, of how she helps?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: The main thing is that she will - my command is find the
car. For example, in these supermarket situations, so evacuating a mall...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: ...so it sounds light but getting out of the stressful
situation is a big piece. And she will lead the charge back to the car. And
using her nose, she is very adept at finding my car or going back to the car
even we rode in, so if Iâm in a carpool or anything like that.
DAVIES: How long have you had Samba, Paul?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: I've had Samba I believe somewhere in the sixth month. Is it
six months I think?
Ms. STOGA: Yeah, February of this year.
DAVIES: And have you noticed any sustained difference in your mood or reactions
since she's been with you?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: The answer is yes. I've had a lot better time engaging
normal or happy civilian life since I've had Samba. And there's other pieces to
the dog ownership that may - some are trained commands and some are the - just
the value of dog ownership. You know, they have a great internal clock, and
setting a routine for myself with traumatic brain injury, that's an important
piece. It's a, you know, working on time management, if she needs to eat at a
specific time every day - and she certainly knows when that is.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: Other events can revolve around that and do. So she also
needs to get out and exercise and the isolation piece I think is really one of
the biggest problems of kind of going down the wrong road. Continuing to
isolate yourself as a PTSD veteran is really I guess the sickness or the
problem, and getting out - and this is something that is, you know, Samba is a
social ambassador and is able to take the focus or attention off of me or the
veteran in public.
And it also takes my attention off of the hypervigilance. So instead of looking
at the mall as a series of sniper locations and, you know, possible IED bags
or, you know, debris cans or, you know, looking at the normal civilian
environment as a hostile threat, Iâm actually focused on the reinforcement of
the training and the dog, not only with you know my eyes and watching her, that
she's performing these commands properly, but, you know, mentally we're
synchronized in getting from point A to point B without, I guess, diverging
into the, you know, perceived threat.
DAVIES: Paul Bang-Knudsen is a former Marine Corporal who was wounded in Iraq.
Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded the program Puppies Behind Bars. And Nora Moran
works in the program. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: We're speaking with Gloria Gilbert Stoga who founded the program
Puppies Behind Bars, Nora Moran, a former inmate who now works with the
program, and Paul Bang-Knudsen, an Iraq war vet who has a service dog named
Samba who was trained in prison.
Paul, do you know where Samba was trained or any of the inmates that were
involved in her training?
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: I do. You know Puppies Behind Bars has a program where they
- the inmates do a wonderful job of documenting. And theyâve got notebooks
which was, I guess, awarded to me once we graduated or they were given to me by
Gloria and itâs an amazing story. It has every day, you know, every portion of
the day documented as to how Samba was acting and what she was doing and if she
was in a good mood or in a bad mood.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Cpl. BANG-KNUDSEN: And even the folks that volunteered to take her out on the
weekends write reports to the inmate trainers and that's included in the books,
and there's a few snapshots in there. And it's a wonderful story. And I have
referenced that time and time again, because I've learned that these inmate
trainers are absolute masters and know this system and how they - you know,
You know, if Samba used to get skitterish(ph) on the public transit, on the bus
- because there was a, you know, an alarm that went off when it lowered and,
you know, in combination with the air brakes and, you know, she got skittish.
And it was funny because I went back to that book and - with two of the inmates
- and they had experienced her digging her heels in before. And simply using
that advice of, you know, staying consistent and, you know, not over-babying
her necessarily - but it was good reference.
DAVIES: Nora Moran, I wonder when you were incarcerated and training puppies,
did you have occasion where you met, you know, people like Paul, whose lives
had been changed by some of the animals that you had helped to train?
Ms. MORAN: Yeah. I was lucky enough to be in Puppies Behind Bars at a time
where we had a number of the companions whoâve received our dogs have come back
and thanked the group of puppy raisers who were participating in the program at
that time. Out of five dogs that Iâve raised, four of them became working dogs.
None of the people who received my dogs came back, but several of the people
when we were working with Guiding Eyes for the Blind came back to thank our
class, and even our first dog tags graduate, Bill Campbell, came back to thank
our class while I was in the program. And it was just a remarkable experience
to know that how many lives that weâve touched based on the work and love that
weâve put into raising these dogs.
DAVIES: You knowâ¦
Ms. MORAN: And not only do the soldiersâ lives get touched or the companionsâ
lives get touched, but every life that soldier comes in contact with as well.
DAVIES: Yeah, their families and loved ones as well, you knowâ¦
Ms. MORAN: Mm-hmm, definitely.
DAVIES: You know, Gloria Gilbert Stoga, I mean this is interesting because
youâve got, you know, inmates - although I mean they obviously caused harm in
someone else - to someone else to be where they are, are people who are often,
you know, harmed and damaged themselves. And you have this other group of
people, in the case of vets, who are - you know, who suffered, you know,
terrible injuries. And theyâre doing something which helps each other. Is it
important for you to kind of have both sides see the emotional connection
Ms. STOGA: Yes. Iâm extraordinarily lucky that 12 years later Puppies Behind
Bars is still as relevant and rewarding to me personally as it was in 1997. As
Nora just said, weâve had recipients of our dogs. Guide dog users, Bill
Campbell, our first dog tag set, and law enforcement agents come in and thank
the puppy raisers. We had a group of our soldiers, our dog tag soldiers, come
in to a menâs prison last fall, and I have never ever seen the kind of
immediate bond I saw between those wounded soldiers and our inmates.
And I was sobbing, the men were sobbing. Sobbing in front of a woman and
sobbing in front of corrections officers, doesnât happen that often in a menâs
prison. But there they just spoke the same language. They were on the same
level that this dog - these dogs had helped them both get out of their
emotional shells, and as Paul just said, get out of that isolation. And that is
something that Iâll remember forever and so will the inmates.
GROSS: Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded the program Puppies Behind Bars. Nora Moran
is a former inmate, who now works at the program. Paul Bang-Knudsen is a former
corporal in the Marine Corp., who was wounded in Iraq. They spoke with FRESH
AIR contributor Dave Davies. Our Animal Week series continues in the second
half of the show.
Iâm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Forensic Vet Helps Prevent Animal Cruelty
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross.
Our animal week series continues with a pioneer of forensic veterinary
medicine, Melinda Merck. She does crime scene investigations in cases of animal
cruelty and conducts autopsies to determine the cause of death when foul play
is suspected. She's the senior director of veterinary forensic sciences for the
ASPCA and a consultant for the Fulton County District Attorneyâs Office in
Atlanta. She was the veterinary forensics expert on the Michael Vick dog
fighting case. She's also the author of two books about forensic investigations
into animal cruelty. I spoke with Melinda Merck in 2007.
Dr. Merck, welcome to FRESH AIR. Do you find that some people, including some
police, some lawyers and judges consider crimes against animals to be
Dr. MELINDA MERCK (Senior Director, Veterinary Forensic Sciences, ASPCA): I
think that in the past that has been more of the norm. I have seen in the last
two three years a change in that. And I think that what is responsible for that
is that the education that is going on through the ASPCA and other
organizations about the link with animal cruelty and other acts of violence
specifically, oftentimes these cases - the defendants in these cases also have
either outstanding warrants or they have criminal backgrounds or there's
concurrent crimes going on, such as drugs and domestic violence. So I think
that has caused a shift in the focus in taking these cases seriously and giving
them proper investigations and support, as far as prosecution as well.
GROSS: What's your typical case like, if there is such a thing?
Dr. MERCK: The most common case that anybody sees is neglect. And that can vary
from an animal suffering from malnutrition in the backyard and starving, but
the majority of the cases that we're starting to see more and more of, and I
think these are extremely heinous as well, is the large-scale animal neglect
cases. And those involve hoarders, which is a collection of animals. It
involves puppy mills. And then, of course, the other large-scale cases are dog
GROSS: Now you mentioned that the collection of animals is one common forms of
abuse that you find. You were on one case where there were 130 dead cats found
in one large house along with 26 severely malnourished cats. What was your role
in this case?
Dr. MERCK: I - it was a long night. I did the crime scene investigation. There
was every floor - there was three floors, and every floor there was decease
cats in various stages of decomposition and then we had the 26 live cats. So
the prosecutor Laura Janssen came out on the scene and I pretty much examined
every animal that I could and we started collecting evidence. And there was a
lot of things that...
GROSS: You examined the living animals or the dead animals?
Dr. MERCK: I started examining the deceased animals as best as I could at the
scene. Most of them were too decomposed to do a proper necropsy. But what there
was was a lot of insect evidence. And I used forensic entomology, which is the
study of insects in legal cases, to establish time of death. And that became
very important in this case because neglect typically is charged as a
misdemeanor. And because of the massive amount of animals that had died, what
we were trying to do was find a way to charge this as a felony.
So what we used in this case was the time of death, which we backdated to
approximately the end of October the previous year. And then, during our search
of the home we found paperwork to show that she had obtained more cats after
all those 130 cats were dead. In our laws we have to prove knowingly and
maliciously as far as intent. And so the district attorney felt that that was
enough to charge her with a felony.
GROSS: So, how do you use insects in forensic analysis of tortured or killed
Dr. MERCK: I use insects to determine the time of death or the time of injury.
Sometimes there are, the fly larva, which are maggots, they are present on a
live animal that has been injured and that'll tell me how long ago the animal
was injured and they also are used to determine time of death.
GROSS: What was her story? Like why was she collecting so many cats and then
either killing or allowing them to die?
Dr. MERCK: Well, the necropsy on the ones that I could do showed that they had
died of starvation. The mentality behind hoarding is complicated. There's
several studies and ongoing research that's done on them. Traditionally, the
typical hoarder has supposedly good intentions at the beginning and then
there's some trigger in their life, a death of a loved one, loss of a job, some
kind of severe stressor in their life that then flips a switch, so to speak,
and they start neglecting their animals.
I believe that there's some subcategories in some of the cases that I've seen,
not particularly in this one, where there may be some element of some kind of
Munchausen by proxy where they're trying to get attention by taking some of the
animals to the vet. And then some of them, I donât believe that they fall into
the hoarding category at all. I feel that they're truly just sadistic killers
There was a case just recently, once again in Ohio, where a woman confessed
that she had been drowning puppies and kittens or puppies and cats and dogs
over - I'm not even sure of the time period - but up to 650 animals, and like
that's not a hoarder. There's something else going on there.
GROSS: What is one of the mysteries that you helped solve that youâre most
Dr. MERCK: I think the assistance on a case that I had recently is the one that
I was the most happy with that we got a conviction as well. Of course, the
outcome was good. This was a case where a man had shot his neighbor's dog. And
there was a lot of problems with the case. He had a history of shooting a black
Lab puppy when he was on his riding lawnmower trying to claim self-defense, and
this was, of course, several years ago and he actually was acquitted. So he had
this history in his neighborhood of shooting animals, not liking animals. And
the neighbor who lived behind him had a standard poodle, female. Those are very
friendly dogs. The dog somehow got out between their fences and into his yard.
The owner immediately went running around to get the dog and she heard the dog
yelp and heard the gunshot.
Now, no one saw who shot the dog. All we knew is where the dog was when she was
shot in his yard. So the problem was the defendant claimed that he didnât shoot
the dog. He didn't claim self-defense. He just claimed that he flat out didnât
shoot the dog. So we had a problem. And she was shot with an air rifle and was
fatally wounded and died later that day. So what I brought to the table with
the prosecutor was like that because it was an air gun and an air rifle, itâs
not a very loud firearm. So the fact that she heard the shot placed her in
close proximity to where the gunshot was fired.
So what I decided, I said why donât we go to the neighborhood and take some
pictures and do some trajectories and determine where the areas the shot
couldâve been fired from. And so what we did in that surrounding area is
interviewed all the neighbors, found out - and they all testified on the stand
- that none of them owned that kind of firearm. And we were able to show that
there was only one other yard that that shot couldâve come from. And he had an
alibi and all the neighbors also owned pets except for the defendant. And the
judge accepted our circumstantial evidence.
We did a diagram and everything and I testified there was one specific piece of
evidence that the dog, where she ran to in the yard was abnormal as far as
behavior when injured or fearful. She ran away from her mom. And that was
supportive of where he was standing when he shot the dog because in order for
the dog to have come to the mother, she wouldâve had to got closer to him. So
that was also a behavioral confirmation that he shot the dog and we got...
GROSS: What was his sentence?
Dr. MERCK: He was sentenced to one year. It was charged at - excuse me. It was
charged as a misdemeanor so the maximum we could get was one year.
GROSS: When you started doing forensic veterinary work after years of just
being, you know, a regular veterinarian, there wasnât a lot that was written
about animal forensics. So I know that you studied human forensics and went to
human autopsies to try to get your bearings with animal forensics. What are
some of the things that like transferred quite nicely between human and animal
forensics and others that really didnât at all, things that are really unique
to animal forensics that youâre not going to learn by studying human forensics?
Dr. MERCK: I think that the main thing that does not transfer from human
forensics to animals is bruising. Animals do not bruise like humans and if they
do bruise, it can take hours to show up. And so, that can be a barrier also
with law enforcement and investigation of these cases because they donât - if
they can't see the bruising then they donât really understand how that there
was blunt force trauma.
Of course, we have some different kinds of injury that we're not going to see
in humans, like imbedded collars, collars that grow into the skin of animals
and we have certainly different kinds of infections that occur in animals. And
so, there's enough unique identifiers of animals that do separate it out from
the human forensic side.
GROSS: Now when you mention that animals donât bruise, is that just that we
donât see their bruises because they're covered by fur or do they really like
Dr. MERCK: They really rarely bruise. There are certain areas that do bruise
and certainly if they're skin is lighter, their fur color is lighter, they're
more susceptible to showing a bruise. But their bruising is under the skin and
their skin is so thick they donât have as big of a vascular supply - blood
vessels to their skin, which is really their makeup because of getting into
fights, running through woods and so forth. They donât - they arenât made to
bleed very easily from their skin, and so that's why we don't see the bruising.
GROSS: How many animals do you have?
Dr. MERCK: I have two dogs and 15 cats.
GROSS: But youâre not a hoarder, right?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. MERCK: That's what...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. MERCK: Well, we should define hoarding as those that have more animals than
they can take care of. No, most of mine have been rescued, neglected, abandoned
and I have a very large home that can accommodate them.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Dr. MERCK: Thank you.
GROSS: Dr. Melinda Merck is the senior director of veterinary forensic sciences
for the ASPCA. Our interview was recorded in 2007.
Coming up, Margaret McLaughlin describes her experiences rescuing animals from
the floods of Hurricane Katrina as our Animal Week series continues. This is
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Rescuing Katrina's Four-Legged Victims
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many people who evacuated
their homes in New Orleans were forced to leave without their pets. Tens of
thousands of animals were left behind. The ASPCA sent animal relief workers
into the region on rescue missions. As part of our Animal Week series, we're
going to hear from one of the volunteers, Margaret McLaughlin. She started off
doing triage work, then went off in animal rescue boats. She's the director of
vet technicians at an ASPCA animal hospital in New York. She's also a certified
search and rescue diver. I spoke with McLaughlin after she returned home from
New Orleans in September 2005. She told me that while on the mission she was
given daily lists of addresses where animals had been left behind.
Tell me one of the stories about going to an address to find pets. Tell me a
story about what it was like.
Dr. MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN (Director of Veterinary Technicians, Bergh Memorial
Animal Hospital): Well, one of the most memorable stories was - which a lot of
people know this story already - itâs the story of Rudy the pig. His owners
called the 800 number and asked to have Rudy removed from the house. They
learned that it was the last day that they could surrender and evacuate
peacefully or they would be physically removed from their home by the police.
So out of desperation they called the LA SPCA number and asked to have Rudy
removed. So when we motored up to the house, the house was completely - there
was like a moat, completely around the house, of water, this filthy water. And
when we went into the house they were very happy to see us, and so was Rudy who
was about 300 pounds. Rudy lived in the house. He had his own little bedroom
with little pig pictures andâ¦
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: â¦all kinds of pig stuff.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, it was really amazing. He had his own little bed. And the
sheet on the bed had little pigs on it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: So these are people that really, really, really loved their pet
GROSS: So what did you do with a 300-pound animal? Did he fit on your boat?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, yeah. We had a huge dog carrier that we had the top off
of. We brought that into the house. We had the pig stand on a blanket and
between six people we lifted up the pig and placed him into the carrier and
then put the top on the carrier. And the most wonderful feeling was when I told
the owner that - because he was like, oh, I canât stay here anymore because I
know that Iâll never see my pig again.
And I said thatâs not true. And he said, arenât you going to euthanize the pig?
And I said, no. We are taking your pig and we are going to keep him safe until
you have your stuff together and you can come and pick him up again. And when
he heard that we werenât going to euthanize his pet pig, he was just so happy
and he was hugging us all. It was really, really wonderful.
GROSS: Well, you know, although most of your search was very directed because
you had addresses from pet owners, did you see a lot of, you know, like
animals, who had like left their home and areâ¦
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: â¦wandering around, you know, lost and afraid?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yes. We saw a lot of them. In this one neighborhood that we
went to, the Saint Bernard Parish area, we would just motor down the street and
just whistle. And at any given time, you could hear five or six different dogs
barking. And we would just, you know, capture them and collect them and put
them in carriers. And when our boat was full, weâd just bring them back to our
staging area. Go back out again, get another boat full.
One of the addresses that we heard dogs barking from, we actually saved five
beagles. They had crawled up a tree that was knocked down by the hurricane. And
they were in the way top branches, probably only 10 feet off the ground because
the tree was laying down. And they were very, very scared and they ran away and
ran into their little â there were like little boxes for them. I guess it was
like a puppy mill type of place. Some of the beagles were dead. But they were
five that were alive and we rescued them.
GROSS: When you were rescuing dogs that were lost or afraid, were they afraid
of you or did they see you as a potential rescuer? I mean, I think, a lot of
animals when they are afraid, they either hide or they fight.
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah. That was a problem. The majority of the dogs and the
cats were very, very frightened. Most of the time they were hiding under beds,
or they were outside and hiding under whatever they could hide under. And we
would use ropes and catch poles and stuff to try to get them out from under
whatever they were hiding. And we had to take care not to get ourselves bit or
GROSS: How did you do that? What precautions did you take?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, to get cats, most of the time we would have an actual
carrier, cat carrier, and the majority of the time when youâre capturing a cat,
theyâll go into a box. The cats were pretty much easy. You could just kind of
scoot them in or scare them into a corner and kind of trap them and then they
would go in. But the dogs are another story. They will not willingly go into a
box. And then you would have to throw a leash on them or entice them with food.
GROSS: Did you carry a lot of food for that purpose?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you also have to be careful not to feed
them too much because they hadnât eaten in quite a few days. And you need to
just give them very, very small meals at first. So when enticing them, you
know, we have to just give them tiny little pieces, just enough to get them
over to you where you could slip a leash around their necks.
GROSS: When the dogs were afraid of you, not realizing that you were there to
save them, did that hurt at all? I mean, here you are making many sacrifices to
save these pets, and of course they donât know that and they are not
necessarily going to be like appreciative of your presence or friendly to you.
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. It - thatâs a little hard. When youâre wrestling and
jumping over things. I mean, sometimes, we would have to like jump on top of -
you know, when you got out of the boat, you would have to jump on top of a car,
from car to car to some - a porch or something like that to try to wrestle
this, you know, biting vicious pit bull. Youâd be like what am I doing here?
But as soon as you got the leash on them and you gave them a little food, the
majority of them, they were appreciative. They were just scared and protecting,
you know, their last stand.
GROSS: We will hear more of our interview with Margaret McLaughlin about
rescuing animals after Hurricane Katrina after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: As part of our Animal Week series, weâre listening back to an interview
with Margaret McLaughlin about her experiences four years ago, when she worked
as a volunteer with the ASPCA, rescuing animals from the floods of Hurricane
What was one of the riskier things that you did to rescue a dog?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: I climbed over two cars. Well, one of them was a van - onto to
the roof of another car. Andâ¦
GROSS: Were these the cars that were mostly submerged?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. So, just the roofs were showing.
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: And then I walked up the back steps of a house, where - they
were metal steps that were kind of not very secured to the building, to the
second floor which had had an open roof. And the water at one point had been
probably a foot higher than it was because there were three dogs trapped on
that roof. So, I walked up those steps and I was able to entice two of them
with food. They first were barking and growling and lunging at me.
But, once they realized that I was a friend and I was trying to feed them and
help them, they calmed down. And I got them into the carriers. And one of them
actually jumped off the roof into the water and started to swim around, where
one of the people working with me on my team, he jumped in the water and
started after the dog and he got a leash on the dog and the dog eventually
paddled over to our boat, where we pulled him up into the boat.
GROSS: Iâm wincing as I hear this becauseâ¦
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
GROSS: â¦Iâm thinking about whatâs in the water and Iâm thinkingâ¦
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh.
GROSS: â¦of the dog jumping in it and of your colleague jumping in it.
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, well we had dry suits on. We were completely equipped
with dry suits. We never got our heads exposed to the water. But, our hands and
our feet were exposed.
GROSS: Were you able to see signs of some of the things that pet owners had
done in hopes that it would help their pets survive the storm?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yeah. Most of the cats that we rescued were doing really,
really well and had, probably had no idea what was going on outside. Most of
the owners had left plenty of food, plenty of water, many different cat boxes,
even for single cat homes. We often saw three and four cat boxes and an
abundance of food. All the people that did that, all their animals were really
well off. You know, they were just scared and lonely.
GROSS: Animals donât often like each otherâs company very much. You know, dogs
bark at each other and get into fights on the street. Cats are not pleased when
strange animals are in their presence, so what was it like to bring all these
animals together, who were already spooked, onto a boat?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they were in their separate individual carriers. Most of
them were kind of scared being on the boat to begin with, so they didnât really
say anything. The cats pretty much just, you know, hid in the back of the cages
and the dogs were kind of scared being on the water, so most of the time they
were very quiet. Occasionally, we would put two animals together that we
thought were a family, like a mother and her puppies or two older dogs that we
thought were a family. And then occasionally youâd hear some barking or a
little bit of fighting going on. But other than that, most of the time the
animals were very quiet inside the boat.
GROSS: Some people listening now might be thinking, is it appropriate to worry
so much about pets and have a rescue operation for pets, when not all of the
people were rescued and when there were still dead human bodies floating by? Is
that the kind of thing that you thought about much? You know, is it appropriate
to worry about animals, when there are still people in jeopardy?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Itâs all kind of connected. Most of the people that we saw that
would not evacuate, they would not evacuate because they still had their pets.
And they would not leave their pets behind. So, we go in and get their pets and
then they can be evacuated. So, itâs pretty much the same - even though weâre
helping the animals, weâre still helping the people.
GROSS: How do you feel about risking your health to save other peopleâs pets?
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: At first, I was a little nervous about touching the water, but
just - the more I saw the pets coming out of the water and the houses and they
were covered with muck, the more I was like - you know, I just â I didnât think
about it. I just wanted to help and I wanted to do whatever I could for the
animals and for the people whose pets they were - that I would hope that
somebody would go into my house if necessary some day.
GROSS: Well, Margaret, thank you for the work that you did. And thank you for
talking with us about it.
Dr. MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you.
GROSS: Margaret McLaughlin recorded in September, 2005, after she returned home
from an ASPCA mission rescuing pets left behind in the floods of Hurricane
Katrina. Sheâs the director of vet technicians at an ASPCA animal hospital in
(Soundbite of music)
You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Iâm
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