Volume 1 | April 19, 2020
News & Updates - April 2020
Thank you for opening our first Friends of Paws in Prison Newsletter! You always have the option to unsubscribe in the footer of the email, but we hope you won't! For those of you who weren't aware, Machelle Gaconnet, the Founder and Executive Director, passed away on September 9, 2019. The organization was almost shut down, but a few courageous souls, who you will meet in this issue, worked tirelessly to keep it alive and start it anew.

Friends of Paws in Prison is the nonprofit organization that provides financial support for Paws in Prison, the organization that rescues shelter dogs for training by female inmates in the Lockhart Correctional Facility, a state prison in Lockhart, Texas.

In this issue, meet the new Board of Directors, the new Executive Director, and the new Adoption Coordinator. Find out what is going on in the prison now and our latest testimonial from an ex-offender. We have lots of plans and some great goals.
Jennifer Keaton - President, Friends of Paws in Prison
Jennifer-Tom-Strait
I'm Jennifer Keaton and this is a photo of me with my husband and our PIP rescue dog Strait. I became the President of Friends of Paws in Prison in September, 2019.  I have been involved in animal rescue for over 25 years. My first German Shepherd was adopted when I lived in North Carolina as an engaged, young professional. I loved my big boy Laker, and helped him recover from abuse. He became a symbol of the rescue organization, a gentle giant that would attend dog and car wash fundraisers with his leash secured to my belt loop! I became Vice President, Treasurer, and was a foster home until I moved away 5 years later, pregnant with my first two legged baby. I took a hiatus from active animal rescue as I raised my two girls in Portland, Oregon and Boston. 

When we moved to Austin in 2007, I again picked up my passion for animal rescue. We had adopted another German Shepherd, Berlin, and then adopted Hannah from Austin German Shepherd Rescue.   I fostered dogs and cats for Austin Pets Alive then also became a volunteer neo-natal kitten feeder and volunteer trainer. This year will be my 8 th  season in the kitten nursery.  I also foster for Thundering Paws and we have adopted out over 55 animals to date!
  
After Hannah died, I became involved with Paws in Prison and I found our dog Strait in Paws in Prison. Machelle, the previous founder and Executive Director of Paws in Prison, found Strait wandering the streets of Lockhart. She named him after singer George Strait during her country music phase. Strait is now a kitten-whisperer and helps us raise cats to become dog-friendly and up for adoption!
  
Machelle and I became good friends and I loved the mission of Paws in Prison. Of course I supported the animal rescue arm, but was passionate about the component of empowering women too.  I started helping with fundraising, getting food donations, and any other kind of donations. Eventually, I was invited to be on the Board. Machelle and I communicated almost every day. The last thing she said to me before she died was to consider Jeri Muhich for the Board, which was sage advice.  Jeri is now our Vice President. She and I have been working hard on fundraising and are excited to be a part of the next chapter with the passion of the new Board, Executive Director and Adoption Coordinator. We have big goals and with your help we will continue working to “Save More than Dogs!"
Jeri Muhich - Vice President, Fundraising and Website Manager
I'm Jeri Muhich (last name rhymes with Buick) and I heard about PIP from a lady at my gym. We had lost our previous 14 year old dog, a very challenging dog, that we adopted from another rescue organization and I was determined to find a "normal" rescue dog. When we adopted our sweet girl Muffin from PIP 10 years ago, shown here with me and my husband, getting a well trained rescue dog was the main thing on my mind. We faithfully donated to Friends of Paws in Prison for many years. Now I realize that our donations did a lot more than saving dogs and providing families with loving pets.

Jennifer Keaton, who I had never met, called me on September 11, 2019 with the stunning news that Machelle had passed away two days earlier. Machelle had many health problems, some Board members had moved away, finances were dismal, and now that the program was without an Executive Director, it was in the process of shutting down. Even in the midst of all this, the dogs were being loved and cared for by the prison inmates. But Jennifer decided she could not let this wonderful program and Machelle's dream die. The very small remaining Board of Directors invited me to be the Board Vice President, and after praying about it, I knew that was what God was calling me to do.

I offered to help with marketing, fundraising and updating the website, areas that I had previous experience with that were sorely needed by Friends of Paws in Prison. Now that I have visited the prison, met some of the inmates as well as women who came out of the program, heard their amazing stories and seen first hand how their lives have been changed, I realized that not only did PIP save the lives of shelter dogs but it had also rebuilt the lives of many women who came from some pretty tragic situations.

I also met Catherine Laria, who truly has saved the program by becoming the most amazing inmate trainer (the person who teaches the inmates how to train the dogs). Catherine is the new Executive Director. She guides each of the inmates into maximizing their potential as a dog trainer and as a worthwhile human being. Catherine and Sylvia Gonzalez, the PIP Adoption Coordinator, work in sync to continue the life saving work that Machelle began back in 2007.

If any of you have a Paws in Prison story to share, I'd love to hear it, and with your permission, maybe even highlight you in the next newsletter or on the website! I also welcome any future fundraising ideas you may have. Because the program operates in a state prison, the lives affected ultimately benefit the entire state!

Contact me at [email protected]
Diane Baines - Secretary, Friends of Paws in Prison
My name is Diane Baines and I became aware of Paws in Prison 10 years ago. I participated in many fun fundraising events and became an official volunteer in 2017 which led to my becoming a board member of Friends of Paws in Prison in 2018. In 2019 I became the Board Secretary.
 
Once I became aware of Paws in Prison, I knew all of our future fur babies would be adopted from this amazing program. The work done by the inmates is so powerful. It heals not only the dogs, but the inmates involved in rehabilitating the dogs. It took a few years before there was an opening in our fur family, but we finally were able to welcome Delilah and Dexter into their forever home. They bring us so much joy. Because of their training, they easily transitioned into being certified pet ambassadors with Delta Pet Partners of San Antonio and they visited at an assisted living facility in Seguin, where they spread much joy on a grand scale.
 
One of my passions is keeping a light on this program by bringing visibility to it and the important work they do. Paws in Prison…healing more than dogs!
Tia May - Treasurer, Friends of Paws in Prison
Hi! My name is Tia May and I am the Treasurer of Friends of Paws in Prison. I was recruited by our esteemed President, Jennifer Keaton, last September, so I'm very new to the program. My background is in accounting. I've been an accountant since I was 17, working for CPA firms, then I was controller for a successful commercial construction company for 16 years. I am president of my own company now, providing contract controller services for small to medium sized businesses.

I have 4 dogs of my own and have been active in adopting, fostering and transportation of adopted animals my whole life. Being the treasurer for Friends of Paws in Prison is a passion project for me and I'm fully committed to its success. I visited the prison several months ago and was so impressed by the operation of the program and the dedication of the trainers and inmates. It really touched my heart and I'm all in! I will do whatever I can to make sure this program is sustainable.
Catherine Laria - Paws in Prison Executive Director and Trainer  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Zig Ziglar
My name is Catherine Laria and I am the new Executive Director and Inmate Trainer of the Paws in Prison program. But rather than tell you the "who" first, I would really like to share with you the “why.” 

When I first went to visit the women of 1-Charlie (AKA the doggie dorm) at the Lockhart Correctional Facility, I was nervous, scared, and excited all at the same time. Would it be dangerous (I have only seen the inside of a prison on TV after all)? Would they respond to me in a positive way, or be mean and jaded? What do I actually have to offer them?  I told Machelle Gaconnet I would come once a month. After Ms. G, as the prison ladies called her, gave my introduction, we talked about service dog training but then quickly the questions moved to, “How can I use this when I get out? Who will really hire a felon? Are there really opportunities out there for us?” We spoke for over an hour and at the end, someone raised their hand and said, “Ms. L, that was better than anything we’ve read from Zig Ziglar!” Machelle was famous in the dorm for sounding off Zig Ziglar quotes, so to hear that my words were being compared to him, ignited the tiniest spark in me that I had no idea would become an inferno!

I volunteered about once a month for 1.5 years to help with training and adoptions. As a business owner of a commercial boarding and training facility, I was also able to share information on other aspects of the animal care industry. The girls were so inspired to learn about all the things they could do, but I was more inspired by their eagerness to learn. Then, on September 9, 2019, everything changed. Ms. G suddenly passed away and my first thought was, “Oh those poor women, I need to help them.” Even though I lived an hour and a half away, traveled nearly every weekend for dog trials, and ran my own company, I knew I needed to be in Lockhart.

With the support of Warden Brown, the new board members, and a couple of volunteers, we just kept putting one foot in front of the other to keep Ms. G’s legacy alive. It didn’t take long to see the complete and most honest gratitude from each woman there. Despite their differences, their personal struggles, their past demons, they came together to support ME while I was supposed to be supporting THEM. They say to me all the time, “We got you, Ms. L!” They are truly an inspiration and it’s why I’m so devoted to persisting in spite of all the struggles we, and so many other nonprofits, have. PIP is 100% saving more than dogs, it is saving the women too!

Now that I’ve told you the “why,” here is a quick note on the "who." I own K9 Country Club in Bulverde, TX. I have been working with animals for over 30 years in so many different aspects: sports, behavior training, service dog work, fundraising and shelter support.  I am nationally ranked as a dog agility competitor and I have traveled all over the world competing with my border collies. I love watching all dogs learn from positive reinforcement training and shaping behaviors and that is what we teach the inmates each day. I have 5 dogs of my own and also foster dogs working towards becoming PTSD service dogs.

In line with the goals of the Lockhart prison’s management company, Management Training Corporation, I am developing a program that will help these women earn certifications and learn the tools needed to excel in the animal care industry, giving them a better chance at earning a living when they are released and becoming contributing members of their societies. In addition, we are helping Lockhart Animal Control by pulling dogs that may otherwise be euthanized, getting them trained by the inmates, and then adopted into loving “fur-ever” homes. PIP has adopted out over 400 dogs since it began and we plan to continue that great work with your support!

In our next newsletter I can’t wait to share with you all the new and exciting details the program is offering to both the inmates and the shelter dogs we rescue!! Until then…stay PAWSitive!

Catherine ([email protected])
Sylvia Gonzalez - Adoption Coordinator
I’m Sylvia Gonzalez and this is my dog Josie. I recently retired as a Parole Officer from the Lockhart Correctional Facility and am familiar with the prison system there. In the past I had a retired drug dog and an active drug dog in my home, but still considered myself a cat person (a drug dog is a dog who sniffs out drugs - not a dog addicted to drugs, LOL!). In 2010, Machelle picked Josie out for me and I took the leap from cat person to dog person. One of Josie’s legs had been amputated due to a devastating injury before she entered the PIP program. The inmates helped her recover physically and emotionally. Machelle brought me a shy nervous dog, but two months later, Josie’s personality was as big as her ears! I’d been a regular donor to Friends of Paws in Prison and considered Machelle a good friend. In September 2019, with Machelle’s death, it became time for me to get involved on a daily basis. I visit the prison at least five days per week (or did before the Covid-19 shut-down) to check on the ladies, the dogs and to act as Adoption Coordinator by reviewing applications, doing home checks, and helping make the perfect match for our adoptees.
Ex-Offender Testimonial
Hi my name is Jennifer... I was an inmate at Lockhart. I was a part of your [PIP] program, graduating two dogs. Your program was the best thing that could have happened to me, and it got me to where I am today. After my release I knew what I wanted to do and that was work with dogs. I was good at it. I worked for several different doggie daycares, and now I am using what I first learned to make a profession out of it. I have a wonderful employer who sees so much potential in me and has given me an opportunity to do what I love and that is training dogs. I am now an enrichment coordinator, daycare lead and am in the process of becoming a master certified dog trainer. I have already completed knowing dogs 101, 201, and 301. Thank you for everything you are doing. It truly made an impact on my life. 
Fundraising Update - Amplify Austin, March 6-7, 2020
Thanks to many of you, we were able to raise $15,125 during Amplify Austin in March 2020. We learned a lot about this local day of fundraising. The four board members and the two staff members were our Fundraising Champions, but when we examined the nonprofits who raised the most, they had 30+ Fundraising Champions. Fundraising Champions are the folks who set up their own fundraising page within their supported nonprofit, then requested donations from their friends and family by sharing the link to their own fundraising page. Here was our Amplify Austin page Paws in Prison Amplify Austin link.

We hope you will join us by being Fundraising Champions in the 2021 Amplify Austin nonprofit day of giving!
Future Goals When the Prison Re-opens After Covid-19
This little guy, Ryder, was adopted last January. Sadly, due to Covid-19, the prison is currently closed to all visitors and volunteers, so our hands are "cuffed" during this shutdown. Normally we average 6-8 dogs with each 8-10 week training class, but until we can afford to increase the number of hours of our staff or hire more staff, we are limited in the number of dogs we can rescue into our training program. We have a goal of training up to 15 dogs at a time. That also means more inmates working with the dogs.

We also hope to start a scholarship program to send paroled inmates to trade schools in various animal welfare occupations such as vet techs/assistants, groomers, and trainers. Additionally we are in the process of setting up an online store to sell Paws in Prison products such as t-shirts, bandanas and bumper stickers.

We welcome any suggestions any of you have for more ways we can further serve animal welfare, families and women in our Texas communities.