Evie, a 4-year old German shepherd/Norwegian elkhound mix, was found dead at the Warren County Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio, on Aug. 25
Credit: Courtesy Joseph's Legacy

An animal rescue group is one step closer to vindicating the savage beating death of one of their companion dogs while in a retraining program at an Ohio prison.

Evie, a 4-year-old German shepherd/Norwegian elkhound mix, was found dead at the Warren County Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio, on Aug. 25. An autopsy revealed she had suffered blunt force trauma to her abdomen, causing liver and kidney damage. The dog had been part of a prison rehabilitation program giving inmates the chance to make the animals more adoptable.

Benjamin Holliday was indicted this week on fifth-degree felony charge connected to Evie’s brutal slaying. Holliday, 31, was incarcerated at the prison, serving time for robbery, burglary and receiving stolen property. He was later moved to another prison.

Shortly after the indictment, Joseph’s Legacy, a rescue group based in Trenton, Ohio, posted on their Facebook page, “We are feeling very emotional yet so proud Evie has a chance at justice towards the person responsible for taking her innocent life.”

| Credit: Courtesy Joseph's Legacy

Evie was rescued by Joseph’s Legacy in 2015 after she was found in a barn suffering from a broken hip and covered in fleas. According to Meg Melampy, the organization’s president, not only did she require urgent medical care, she was nursing two puppies. One puppy died from its neglect, and Evie and her surviving puppy were adopted.

“It’s common for dogs who have been neglected to develop separation anxiety and although her family loved her dearly, she did return because she started to become an escape artist,” Melampy said. “We put her into foster care and she did really well.”

About two years ago, the rescue started partnering with the Warren County prison to allow prisoners to foster dogs.

Credit: Courtesy Joseph's Legacy

“We’ve had about a dozen dogs go through this program and we decided to place Evie because we’re scared to death she would escape and get hurt again. We thought having a person around her 24/7 would help with her issues,” Melampy said. “We were trying to protect her.”

The rescue group received a call from prison officials, delivering news about Evie’s death. “They told me it was suspicious and they would be conducting an investigation,” Melampy said. The group pulled all their dogs from the prison and started a “Justice for Evie” campaign on their Facebook site, decrying the abuse Evie suffered.

“They told us she was just dead in her crate,” Melampy said. “She was an amazing dog with a lot of love to give. We can’t wrap our heads around what happened — what could have made him that angry.”

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Melampy said the indictment proves Evie’s death was not in vain. “When we got the news, we were crying. Yes, we had to go through the emotions again and we don’t know what the courts will do. But we are hoping justice for Evie will help prevent this from happening again,” she said.

Katherine Hartung, a volunteer who fostered Evie, is working with Ohio legislators, the Ohio Department of Corrections and animal rescue groups to develop new policies and legislation aimed to better protect dogs in prisons. “[Holliday] should have never been a handler based on his past offenses,” Hartung said. “I was livid to find out he was not an individual who would have been a candidate for this program but the rules have been relaxed over the years and it needs to be addressed.”

Credit: Courtesy Joseph's Legacy

Hartung, who worked as a jail corrections officer for five years, said most prison programs have been positive and resulted in a win-win situation for dogs and their inmate handlers.

“I was initially against it because I worked as a jailer and didn’t see the benefit, but over the years I found the program to be remarkable. Evie won’t have died in vain though, because we are going to fix this. We are starting in Ohio and hope other states soon follow suit,” she said.

According to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections spokesperson, JoEllen Smith, “the animal training programs within our facilities have proven to be an effective and meaningful activity for over 20 years, and we have absolutely zero tolerance for any type of abuse of the animals who are part of these programs.” Smith said a committee was formed to review the dog programs and develop a standardized policy for these programs that will focus on the well-being and care of the animals.

“We anticipate that this policy will be in place by the end of January,” Smith said. “She didn’t deserve this,” Hartung said. “She was the perfect dog. All she ever did was try to jump a fence. If I had known this would happen, I would have found a way to tolerate her escaping. Now I am just devastated.”

Melampy added, “Of course we deal with the guilt and we will never place dogs in a prison again. If we could go back we would have never done it. She could have brought someone a lot of love and kindness and we are hurting deeply.”