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Jail inmates help prep shelter dogs to live on the outside

“Sarge” is a big, outwardly cheerful fella scarred here and there from old war wounds — and eager for a second chance.

In those ways, he’s like Devin Hodge, the Cook County inmate in “3 XL” scrubs who has been feeding, walking and in every other way taking care of the rust-colored pit bull mix for the past few weeks.

“When they picked us to be together, it was like a match made in heaven,” joked Hodge, 28, serving time for drug possession in a maximum security division of the Cook County jail.

Hodge, along with three other inmates, will soon be saying goodbye to their dogs — animals that were left in their care as part of Tails of Redemption, a partnership with Chicago Animal Care and Control. The program, in essence, rehabilitates shelter dogs and saves them from almost certain death.

“We’re taking animals that would otherwise — through obviously no fault of their own — be euthanized, and we’re giving them loving homes,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said Wednesday during a “graduation” ceremony in the Division 9 chapel, a windowless basement chamber with painted concrete benches.

Sarge and the other dogs have spent the past six to eight weeks living with the inmates in their cells, learning the basics of how to get along in society — how to sit, stay and, in the end, become more likely to be adopted. Animal trainers tutored the inmates before each took in a dog. The dogs are exercised four times daily in a yard within jail walls.

The impact on the inmates is easy to see.

“As you can see, he’s had kind of a rough life,” said Hodge, grinning and pointing out the scars on the panting beast sprawled out at his feet.

Hodge is scarred too. A crooked line snakes along the bridge of his nose; an old knife wound.

“Bad decisions — when I was younger,” Hodge said.

Ald Ray Lopez, detainee Devon Hodge and Sarge at the graduation ceremony for dogs participating in the Cook County Sheriff’s second Tails of Redemption class on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
Ald Ray Lopez, detainee Devon Hodge and Sarge at the graduation ceremony for dogs participating in the Cook County Sheriff’s second Tails of Redemption class on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

After the ceremony was complete, Hodge led Sarge down a corridor of purple cinderblock beneath dim strip lighting. His crate sat inside a dreary cell with a tiny, high-up slit of a window. Sarge wagged his tail, seemingly without a care in the world.

As for Hodge, he said he’s thrilled Sarge will, hopefully, soon be leaving the jail.

“I’m just glad that he’s going to have a great home and that someone is going to love him and take care of him,” Hodge said.

Detainee Mark Brooks and Hoffman return to their cell after the graduation ceremony for the Cook County Sheriff’s second Tails of Redemption class on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
Detainee Mark Brooks and Hoffman return to their cell after the graduation ceremony for the Cook County Sheriff’s second Tails of Redemption class on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times