Lou Lou – the Catawba Correctional Center mascot

dog shaking hands
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - 7:15am

There’s a special kind of therapist making the rounds at Catawba Correctional Center. Her name is Lou Lou. “Good morning Lou Lou,” is echoed every day when folks encounter the friendly greeter.

She’s not an official employee, but more like a volunteer who gets paid with an occasional dog treat or a pat on the head. Lou Lou is the facility mascot, a dog serving as a daily reminder of the value of the life and joy she brings as man’s best friend to many men and women inside the fence at Catawba.

Lou Lou was pretty skinny and still puppyish when she squeezed through a very small opening under a fence at the minimum custody facility about two years ago. When a sergeant let her out the gate, she didn’t seem to want to leave, and apparently stuck around like a dog with a bone. Employees attempted to find Lou Lou’s owner, to no avail. About two months later the owner came to the facility looking for her. Everyone from employees to those housed at the facility were heartbroken, but hoped Lou Lou would be happy back at her first home. 

Lou Lou’s first owner took her home for a few weeks, but according to Warden Tim Kerley they brought her back saying she was miserable. She seemed to want to be back at the prison where she had formed a bond with employees and the offenders housed there. 

Both Kerley and Angie Benge, assistant superintendent of Operations, described how grateful everyone was to have her back. They said it was pretty depressing when she left and then when she returned everyone was elated.

“She just seems to show up at the right time,” Kerley said. “It’s like she knows and can read emotions.”

Benge says everybody loves Lou Lou, even the ones who don’t really like dogs or are afraid of them. The feeling is apparently mutual, as Lou Lou seems to love everybody at the facility. 

Benge explained, “We all say she doesn’t judge hurts, hang-ups or habits.”

One thing for sure, Lou Lou is a good listener. The offenders can count on her to keep their personal stories confidential. One of them wanted others to know how special Lou Lou is so he wrote a note to the warden.

"Lou Lou is a sweet loving dog free of judgment and expectation,” wrote Donald Young. “Everyone who walks through the gate, she greets with a wagging tail and a friendly, loving demeanor.”

It is a blessing having a well behaved dog who instinctively picks up on emotions and knows when someone is going through an internal turmoil. Some people have a hard time opening up and reestablishing healthy, loving relationships. Lou Lou is a tool and pathway to reestablishing those connections and to ease the reintegration process."

Lou Lou likes to have fun and play ball, but she also apparently has a lot of dogged determination and takes her job seriously at times. If she finds tobacco, which is considered contraband inside the facility, she will take it to an officer. 

When it’s count time and correctional staff are making sure all the offenders are accounted for, Lou Lou is lock-step with the correctional officers and stays focused, ignoring anyone trying to distract her. She will stand at the gate to greet all the offenders returning to the facility from their work release jobs. She’s also been known to herd people when it’s time for a facility meeting or gathering. 

No one specifically trained Lou Lou to do any of the aforementioned duties. Kerley says she just seems to pick up on things. For instance, she will respond when she hears “Lou Lou to gate two” over the intercom, running from wherever she is on the grounds. She has learned someone will let her through the gate, where she can follow them into the administration building to get a treat. 

Chaplain Reggie Longcrier has told the warden he is amazed how offenders react to Lou Lou and she to them. He said has never seen anything having quite that effect on offenders and he has worked at the prison for more than 30 years. 

For those who have been in prison for many years, petting Lou Lou is a reminder of better times, of more normal times. She sleeps near them, in a dog bed on the floor of one of the housing units. Many will use their own funds in their personal accounts to purchase canned tuna or other treats for Lou Lou.LouLou at Catawba Corectional Center

Employees chip in to pay for Lou Lou’s dog food, supplies, shots and medicine. According to a WebMD article written by Michelle Bloomquist, the results of animal-assisted therapy are just beginning to be documented in medical literature. The employees and those housed at Catawba don’t need a medical journal to tell them the “pawsitive” impact Lou Lou has had on them. They will attest she has made quite an impression on them, making them smile and chuckle on a routine basis. 

At the end of the day, Lou Lou can rest assured, she’s an important part of the team at Catawba CC. Whether it’s a “three dog night” or the “dog days of summer” she has shown she is committed to lift everyone’s spirits. 

When Lou Lou is coming through, some employees will step aside and say, “Beauty before age” and they let her lead the way. 

She is indeed a special kind of therapist. 

Pamela Walker, DPS Communications Director