New Leash On Life                                                                                                    2012

In the Spring of 2013, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a six-part series on a Philadelphia prisons program that matched inmates with behaviorally challenged dogs. New Leash on Life - like other prison dog training programs throughout Pennsylvania, is a second chance for inmates to turn their lives around and often the last chance for many difficult dogs on death row in the city's public shelter.


While the program’s goal is to prepare every inmate for possible employment in the pet care industry once they leave prison, this essay focuses on three dogs and their trainers. They are distilled from the articles, written by Melissa Dribben, and represent many weeks visiting the prison and families who adopted dogs. The stories and photographs won several awards and were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize

The group of inmate their dogs and support staff from New Leash on Life that helped guide them through the program.

Corey Maxey gets an affectionate lick from his dog, Rolo.

The dogs became family members as images posted photos of themselves with their dogs in their cells.

Corrections officers grew close to the dogs as well.

Inmates not in New Leash on Life gather on the other side of the glass to watch inmate Gabriel Seda work with his dog, Mike.

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NEW LEASH (52 of 53).jpg

Inmate Joseph Davis asked for a challenging dog. He was given Mike, a feisty tan pit bull who had been returned to the Hunting Park shelter repeatedly for bad behavior, hyperactivity, and aggression over toys.

From the first day, instead of having Mike sleep in the crate that New Leash provided, Joseph Davis made a bed of blankets under his cot for Mike.

Nicole LaRocco, a professional dog trainer hired by New Leash, works with Mike as his trainers, Joseph Davis and Gabriel Seda, watch.

Joe taught Mike all sorts of tricks including climbing the walls to retrieve a bone outside his cell.

Joe gives Mike a bath in a makeshift washroom.

Joe watches as Elliott Glover, another inmate who had been through the program, dries Mike off after a bath.

Joe is evaluated for his training skills.

Joe watches nervously as Laura Muller, a vet tech hired by New Leash, demonstrates how to clip Mike's nails.

To reassure Mike that he isn't hurting Mike Laura points to a drawing illustration what happens when a dogs nail is clipped.

Mike sits patiently during graduation ceremonies.

After graduation Joe and his cell mate Gabriel Seda say goodbye to Mike.

Mike gets a final look at the inmates as he is taken away by his new owner Michelle Rambo, who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

Mike shreds a stuffed in Minutes at his new home.

Mike now happily serves as a service dog for Rambo who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

James Barkley listens to instructions from trainer Jennifer Green. Barkley, one of the oldest inmates, said he was practicing often with his stubborn dog, Ike, but the trainer was skeptical.

James tires to get Ike to come to him during a training session. Ike had other ideas.

New Leash on Life trainer Jennifer Green tries her hand at getting Ike to lie down but Ike shows his stubbornness.

Usually gruff in his demeanor James shows a lighter side as he accepts the job of "poop" duty for a month.

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NEW LEASH (16 of 53).jpg
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NEW LEASH (17 of 53).jpg
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NEW LEASH (18 of 53).jpg

James sits quietly by himself after the dogs’ graduation ceremony. His dog, Ike, was adopted by a Bucks County family. Ike was judged “most improved” in obedience.

Ike has a game of tug a war with a Buck County family who eventually adopted him.

Even though Ike made himself at home he became over protective of the children and attacked a family relative. He was sent to a kind of half way house for problem dogs where he again attacked a worker there.


Because of his aggressive behavior Ike was put dow. He was the first dog in the history of the New Life Program to be euthanized.

Jamal Thompson (left) watches as the Heshery, the dog he shares with Dominic Hayes (right) gets his teeth cleaned. The was the first time Thompson had seen the procedure.

Hershey, a playful mix breed, was assigned to Jamal and even though he looks fearsome as he taunts another dog became the jokester of the group. Their personalities fit well together.

Even though Ike was not Jamal's dog he made it a nightly ritual to spend time with him in his crate before bed time.

Jamal finds out from his attorney that he is eligible for parol two weeks before the program is over. He decides to stay the extra time in order to receive his training certificate.

Hershey’s new owners try to restrain him as he jumps on after graduation.

Corrections Officer Terrell Wood, whose 18- year-old son was murdered, offers Jamal some advice just before he is released. “You really can’t believe you’re free,” Jamal said as he left Mod 3 after eight months. He would start an internship three days later.

Jamal's ID bracelet is cut during a small ceremony that all images participate in before being released.

Jamal takes his first steps of freedom after eight months in prison.

Things in his bedroom of his grandmother's home looks the same after nearly a year in prison.

Jamal is greeted by his family after leaving the prison. Thompson lost one full-time job in April, but was given a second chance at a new shelter a month later.