When 10-year-old Delilah first arrived at the Austin Animal Center, she was beaten down and scared, the pink scar lining her back a sad road map to her difficult past.
The constant noise and stimulation at the center weren’t helping, and Delilah, a pit bull mix, began to withdraw.
Eager to find a solution, the staff got creative, deciding, ultimately, to send her to jail.
But while Delilah may occasionally don black-and-white stripes for fun photo-ops, she’s not being punished. She’s being fostered as part of a new program that houses animals that may be harder to adopt because of age, appearance or medical needs with inmates at the Travis County Correctional Complex.
The program is mutually beneficial. For Delilah, it’s an opportunity to experience around-the-clock love and affection while learning important skills such as crate training and socialization that will make her more adoptable. For the inmates, many of whom have also come from hard places, it’s a chance to learn marketable dog-grooming and dog-training skills as well as a reason to start each day with a sense of purpose.
“We have to look past the black-and-white stripes. Our goal is for them to go and be productive citizens,” said jail administrator Major Sally Pena. “Whatever we can do to think outside the box is what we should do. What we’re saying to this selected group is, ‘We trust you.’”
Delilah shares a unit with eight male inmates who were carefully screened before being admitted to the program and are responsible for her care, from feeding her to exercising her. The inmates receive weekly dog-training classes from the Austin Animal Center. The jail also offers a program that matches kittens with female inmates.
In a visitation room earlier this week, Delilah chewed on her favorite orange bone as two inmates lovingly rubbed her belly. One, who cannot be identified because of privacy issues, said his time with Delilah has inspired him to pursue a career in dog training once he is released.
“I can look at her and see she’s had a rough life. Some of us have, too. We’re not the sum of where we’ve been or what we’ve done,” he said. “She brings a spark of life to this experience.”
Another inmate said Delilah “has the type of personality that makes the sun shine a little brighter.”
For Delilah, who loves dressing up and could rock an ugly Christmas sweater, the ideal family would be a single adult, a couple or a family with older children, according to the Austin Animal Center, which has dubbed her a “well-mannered snuggle bug.” A meet-and-greet would be needed to see if she is compatible with another dog.
“She’s pretty much the perfect dog,” said Sara Stein, who volunteers with Delilah twice a week. “It makes me see the joy that animals can bring, and it’s bringing joy to the dog’s life, too, because she has someone there 24/7. That’s every dog’s dream.”
So far, Delilah has served nearly six months and even celebrated her 10th birthday behind bars with a party that included pizza for the inmates and a party hat and “pupcake” for her. While her departure will be bittersweet, her inmate family agrees it’s time for Delilah to be released to a forever home.
“I must warn you that I am guilty of being cute and adorable and will definitely steal your heart,” wrote one inmate in a letter, speaking for Delilah. “I hope you like my pictures and that you will take the time to come and see me at the shelter and bail me out.”
Want to learn more about Delilah? Email email@example.com or visit austintexas.gov/department/aac.