Ohioan pushing new legislation after therapy dog beaten to death in Cincinnati area prison

LEBANON, Ohio — After her therapy dog was beaten to death at a prison, a woman is pushing to change Ohio law with legislation that the first of its kind in the United States.

Katherine Hartung thought participating in an animal-assisted therapy program at Warren Correctional Institution would be good for Evie, the sweet-tempered mutt she fostered through Joseph’s Legacy Animal Rescue.

The dog’s health had improved immensely since she came to Joseph’s Legacy flea-ridden, injured and nursing two puppies, and Hartung felt hopeful more positive interactions with humans would help prepare her for a forever home.

Evie was discovered beaten to death inside a cell at the prison Aug. 25.

“There are times I still cry,” Hartung said Friday. “I feel very guilty for having her in that program.”

Evie’s tag hangs from her rear-view mirror, reminding her of her new goal: To change the therapy program at the Warren Correctional Institution and perhaps even Ohio law to protect animals like Evie from being abused by the people they’re meant to help.

“There’s no legislation, nothing put in place for this prison program when it began in the ‘90s,” she said. “When they opened the nursery program in Marysville, there was already policies and legislation in place protecting the babies.”

The Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville began the Achieving Baby Care Success Program, which allows some inmates who give birth in prison to retain custody of their babies and receive “hands-on parenting instruction” in the prison nursery, in 2001. According to the prison’s website, participating mothers must be serving a short-term sentence for a non-violent crime.

Hartung’s campaign to limit which inmates can participate in therapy animal programs has included calls to the Warren Correctional Institution, where officials said they would review the program after completing an investigation into Evie’s death, and state legislators. Hurting has hope that Rep. Bill Patmon will draft an amendment to the state constitution that saves dogs’ lives down the road.

“There are dogs still remaining in the prison program,” she said. “Their lives are kind of at stake if there’s not enough security in there.”

Joseph’s Legacy withdrew all of its participating dogs after Evie’s death.