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Former inmate reconnects with dog in first canine adoption at new SPCA site

The first canine adoption at the SPCA Serving Erie County's new facility in West Seneca connects a woman and a dog who spent time together behind bars.

Jed, a mixed breed about 6 months old, came from Arkansas.

Mercedes Castillo and Jed participated in the "Pups at the Pen" program, a partnership between the Erie County Sheriff's Office and the SPCA Serving Erie County.

Castillo, 19, said she has three dogs at home in Holland. She said she and Jed had an immediate connection.

"As soon as he came in, me and him bonded right away," said Castillo, who spent seven weeks training Jed.

Under the program, the dogs live with female inmates in the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden usually for six weeks. The dogs are trained and learn socialization skills, while inmates are given the chance to learn personal responsibility and get a sense of satisfaction from doing something productive while in jail.

Castillo was released April 11 from the correctional facility, where she served four months on criminally negligent homicide and assault convictions. Castillo was in a drag race in Colden last April. The driver of the other car crashed, killing her boyfriend, Chauncey Kloiber, who was a passenger in that car.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Scott Zylka said Castillo experienced a tremendous turnaround while she was incarcerated, calling the experience "truly an inspiring story of rehabilitation, for both parties."

Castillo's adoption of Jed on Monday came on the same day dogs became available for adoption at the SPCA facility on Harlem Road. The SPCA's new 52,000-square-feet site opened a week ago, after the agency moved from its location on Ensminger Road in the Town of Tonawanda.

The Sheriff's Office and the SPCA announced the "Pups at the Pen" program in July 2016. SPCA officials pick dogs for the program who may need extra attention or have special needs. The program is modeled after the Steps to Adoption Readiness (STAR) Partnership in the Albany County Correctional Facility.

In August, the first two dogs - Shetland Sheepdogs named Nicky and Maxie - graduated from the program and were made available for adoption. Of about 11 dogs that have gone through the program here so far, only one has yet to be adopted. The dog is in foster care, SPCA officials said.

 

‘Pups at the Pen’ program gives dogs, inmates new lease on life

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