A pilot program of Paws for a Cause, started last year at Sussex Correctional Institution, has been suspended after three people were bitten by one of the dogs.
Department of Correction spokesman John Painter said three staff members at the Georgetown prison were bitten, all by the same dog. Following the third bite, SCI Warden G.R. Johnson halted the program, and two dogs living at SCI were returned to the Delaware SPCA shelter in Georgetown.
Deputy Warden Linda Valentino, who helped establish the program at SCI, said she was disappointed.
“After the first bite, we tried to make changes to prevent it from happening again,” Valentino said. When the changes did not work and two more bites occurred, the warden decided to remove the dogs.
Inmate and Paws for a Cause participant Raymond Bradley said he was saddened by the news. Of the 10 dogs in the program, eight have been adopted. The two remaining dogs were just starting training when the program was stopped, he said.
Painter said the program could be renewed once officials make sure changes have been made to prevent future bites. A similar program at the all-women's correctional facility in upstate Delaware has been successful, Painter said.
“In this case, we are changing rules about staff interacting with the dogs,” Valentino said. “It seems some of the staff members were becoming complacent and too friendly with the dogs. They were moving in too quick, and some mouthing or little nips happened.”
Painter said none of the bites were severe; all were internally investigated by SCI officials.
“It's a new program, and we want to make sure it is headed in the right direction,” Valentino said.
Officials and trainers associated with the program were notified of its suspension Feb. 15.