The tale of Circle Tail
36 | Salt | January/February 2015
Marlys Staley, founder and executive director of Circle Tail, with two dogs.
Most people only dream of the perfect job — a job in which career and passion converge and create fun-filled days. Marlys Staley dreamed of such a job during what she calls a “mid-life crisis of sorts.” She was a physical therapist, providing leadership and help at Shriner’s Hospital in Cincinnati. She had even written a book, “Burn Care and Rehabilitation Principles and Practice.” Yet, she dreamed of owning a coffee shop where people could bring their dogs, drink, relax and read books. She also dreamed of a wine bar with the same amenities. She loved helping people and she loved dogs. Then, during Christmas in 1996, she was visiting relatives in Florida. She decided to attend a guide dog open house and “a light bulb went off” within her. She returned to Ohio in January, and by Feb. 6 she had incorporated her new venture. Her passion for helping people with disabilities and her love of dogs had just converged as Circle Tail Inc. Today, Marlys lives on site in Pleasant Plain and works in the main office building with Aztec and Rango by her side. The dogs have worked at Circle Tail, and have even assisted training of other dogs off site. Aztec has been working for 11 years. Marlys and Tina, the longtime kennel manager and groomer, have been extremely busy with events and the opening of a new building on the
property. In November 2014, they opened the Center for Service & Hearing Dogs, which contains a puppy night room, a playroom, a whelping room and a kitchen with slow feed bowls. The “quiet room” even has a rocking chair where volunteers can rock puppies. Quite an atmosphere compared to the rustic kennel that housed Circle Tail dogs for the first 12 years of the organization. This new center will require many new volunteers in 2015. Circle Tail has been accredited by Assistance Dogs International since 2008. Dogs can be trained to provide assistance in the home or in public. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to provide service and hearing dogs for people with disabilities at no cost to the individual. Circle Tail receives dogs from humane societies, rescue organizations and individuals. The unique quality of this organization is that the dogs are currently trained at two prisons in Ohio: Ohio Reformatory for Women and Dayton Correctional Institute. Both are facilities for women who have full responsibility for the puppies and dogs. Grooming, feeding and training are part of the daily routines. Crates in the inmates’ quarters provide aroundthe-clock companionship. The women regularly attend training classes with Circle Tail trainers and correctional facility program coordinators. Training a dog can take two
years, and some of the inmates have been “handlers” for 10 years. This program is entirely supported by public contributions, and a full sponsorship, including everything from a crate to veterinary services, can cost $2,000. After much training, some dogs are not totally reliable for service, but they are wonderfully trained pets that Circle Tail places in its dog adoption program. These dogs do not always stay on site in Pleasant Plain. The dogs fare best staying with their handlers in prisons, learning commands and manners until adopted by their “forever” owners. Not only are dogs spayed, neutered and vaccinated, but they come with forms completed by the inmate handlers who give very complete information. If a dog loves to “play growl” and “loves cats,” according to the form, new owners can depend on that behavior.
Some inmates have written about their experience with Circle Tail dogs. Victor E. Addis Jr., in prison for felonious assault, wrote in 1999 about his changed life. “My best memory was when Circle Tail brought me a pregnant dog named Lena that I agreed to take and care for. Lena had 12 pups in my cell. It was the first time pups were born in that prison!” he stated. “It was a hot summer in the cell and I missed chow a lot, but I wouldn’t change the experience for anything! … Circle Tail helped change my life and I haven’t been back to prison… Please support programs like Circle Tail because each time Ms. Staley goes into the prison she’s saving two lives.” Victor went on to become a professional obedience trainer, certified canine trainer, 4,000 hours-apprenticed animal behavior therapist and former American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test evaluator.