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Image courtesy of Lawrence May

From a distance, it appeared to be a caged lion. Immediately, I thought of the stories my parents told me regarding traveling circuses. Animals in cages, placed on wagons, pulled by horses from town to town. 

Men in the recreational yard stopped talking and exercising as the cart approached, pulled by two women heading toward our building, where the Paws For Life K9 Rescue Program is housed. 

There was a brown dog inside the sturdy metal cage. We thought he was vicious because he was caged, but we later found out he had been hit by a car. That was how I first met Casper. Little did I know I’d be assigned to care for him along with my two teammates, Jack and Tobias. 

During the first month he was with us, we put him through his physical therapy exercises. Casper seemed to know we were helping him and he loved the attention. Massaging and stretching his injured hind leg brought Casper and me closer together. He enjoyed relaxing on my bed after short walks up a slight incline. I often had to tell him to slow down and take it easy; we didn’t want him to reinjure his fragile leg. 

After a few weeks, his stitches were removed. We kept watchful eyes on his thigh and tummy to make sure they didn’t get infected. He had to wear a cone around his head. All of us, especially Casper, were happy and relieved when those days ended. We made his overnight crate safe and comfortable so he had a restful and peaceful spot to relax. 

Once he recovered, we began his training. He learned the commands sit, down, come and stay in record time. Since Casper was only 6 months old, he was a playful puppy. Several short five-minute training sessions were more productive than one long session. In between, I scratched all his favorite spots and gave him loving affection. 

Our team divided our time with Casper. I usually shared the morning hours with him. I looked forward to getting up every morning, seven days a week, to work with Casper. 

When he saw me coming at 6:15 am, I heard one of my favorite sounds: his tail banging against the plastic crate. I immediately take him outside and the desert sunrise wakes both of us up. He had a big appetite and enjoyed his healthy breakfast. Afterward, I groomed his beautiful fur with a brush. 

We also enjoyed our strolls around the prison yard. When I stop and say, “Wait,” Casper automatically sits. 

To graduate from the program, dogs must pass the canine good citizen (CGC) test, which consists of 10 items. Casper mastered many of them. He loved to come when called but hated to stay put. Sit and down were easy for him, and he looked forward to his daily brushing. He sometimes got easily distracted by other dogs and people walking by, but this would subside as he got older. His physical achievements were improving daily. 

His transformation from being wheeled in on a cart and having to be carried outside to now leaping up onto my comfy bed has been a thrill to witness. Our motto is, ”We work hard so our dogs can have a better life.” Casper has done his part. 

The men on the yard all loved Casper and they came from near and far to greet him. 

After he was adopted, we received the following note from Casper’s new family. 

Hello Larry, Tobias, Jack, and Allen,

Happy New Year from Casper’s new family! We appreciate the letters you wrote to us detailing all of the patience, care, hard work, and dedication you provided to Casper so he could earn his Paws for Life Canine Good Citizen Certificate. Casper, renamed Cooper, is enjoying his new life taking walks and wrestling with friends. He especially likes one dog named Woodrow, and I included photos of them rough-housing together. 

We took Cooper to a veterinarian when we adopted him to learn what his limitations would be due to his serious car accident and the surgery on his left hip. The veterinarian was very impressed at the progress Cooper has made and said that he looks extremely healthy and happy! This is all thanks to your dedication and love for him when he could barely walk. Now he bounds up the stairs, runs around the grass with other dogs, chases after balls and acts like any young, excited and carefree dog. 

We want to thank you for being a part of this rehabilitation program with Karma Rescue and we are thankful to you all for bringing Cooper back from a terrible, near-death injury to allow him to lead a happy healthy life as the newest addition to our family. 

Kindest Regards,


Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Lawrence May is a writer incarcerated in California. He has traveled to nearly 40 countries outside the U.S. and has written more than 50 stories, as well as his autobiography.