Cheri Carbone moved to Kentucky in 1985. She says she hated leaving her hometown of Streator, Illinois, but she felt like there was a reason for it.
“If you keep yourself opened up, God guides you into your calling. I feel like mine has always been to work with animals.”
Fast-forward 34 years later — Carbone just helped celebrate the prison dog program’s 10-year anniversary, as a volunteer at the helm of Mutts with Manners (MWM). She has a successful private dog training business, and she volunteers to instruct a free, monthly dog training class in partnership with Danville-Boyle County Humane Society (DBCHS) for anyone who’s adopted.
“I think it’s a God-given talent that she understands dogs. It’s hard to explain — she just has a knack for it.”
Carbone has always been around and worked with animals. As a child, “I would jump in the middle of dog fights,” she says, shaking her head; something she doesn’t recommend anyone do, of course. But the memory alone goes to show — “I always felt more dog than human, from the get-go. Felt like I belonged there instead of the human race, like a dirty trick was played on me …”
John Turner says he doesn’t really know how to explain it. He’s worked with Carbone for almost 10 years as a volunteer for MWM, and is also on the DBCHS Board.
“I think it’s a God-given talent that she understands dogs. It’s hard to explain — she just has a knack for it,” Turner says. “It’s what she’s meant to do. She gets them.”
He says she never gets frustrated or loses patience with the dogs. Carbone says that’s because, “Dogs don’t follow unstable leaders.”
Carbone says she thought she would have been more seriously into horseback riding, but a genetic back issue she began experiencing in her 20s prevented that. She’s able to manage her pain now, and handles classes by doing only an hour or two at a time.
She says back in June of 2009, when Northpoint Training Center and DBCHS contacted her about starting MWM, she didn’t even think about what would be in 10 years. “I just jump in and go, and don’t really think too far ahead …”
She remembers her husband, Joe, not being happy about her going into the medium-security men’s prison to teach inmates how to train dogs. “He wasn’t wild about it. But I told him, sorry — God trumps your thing, because I feel like I’m supposed to do this.”
And in 10 years, Carbone says she hasn’t experienced a single moment where she was uncomfortable. In fact, through the years, she’s had two different prisoners tell her that she “scares them to death.”
“I think what started it, early on we had some dogs in there that were strong-willed, more dominant then they should be. One growled. I pulled him into my face — he was a big dog — and I got in his face. The dog turned away, and I think that scared some of the guys who hadn’t seen dog aggression …”
Northpoint’s warden, Brad Adams, said the inmate program participants “respect Cheri to the fullest, and trust what she has to teach them every time she is here.” He attributes that respect to her professionalism, eagerness and motivation about the program and the inmates.
Although petite in height, Carbone is muscular. She trained as a gymnast for a while, too, before the back issues began, and has never had problems with bigger animals. She used to train and show Rottweilers and German shepherds, as well as Dogo Argentinos — a large breed developed in Argentina to hunt game, like wild boar and pumas.
At home, she has her own service dog named Zander, who was trained by MWM, to help due to her back issues. Carbone says he’s an incredible helper, including picking up all the other dogs’ dishes and giving them to her.
She recently entered a dog show with Zander, and competed against a student of hers and his dog. “The student got a higher score than I did,” Carbone says.
She says afterwards, someone wanted to know what she thought of the student beating her. “I said I think it’s a sign of a really good trainer,” she says and laughs.
Although she’s known for shying away for any public kudos, “Cheri is truly the brains and brawn behind Mutts with Manners,” says Fizzy Ramsey, president of the DBCHS Board. “She’s worked tirelessly leading a team of volunteers and inmates to guarantee a better future for thousands of dogs.”
Carbone doesn’t advertise her private classes, her students are all by word of mouth. Many stem from the free monthly class she offers with DBCHS. That’s started to get crowded, “but volunteers like Gina Hunter and Ben Barlow have been a godsend.”
Turner first attended her free class after adopting a dog who was scared of people and didn’t get along with other dogs; he then enrolled in her six-week class. “After I saw how much (my dog) improved after six weeks, I signed up for another, and then another …”
He says it’s important to know: Carbone really is training humans, not dogs. “When you bring your dog to her class, she doesn’t train your dog. She teaches you how to train your dog.”
Carbone also offers a boot camp for dogs, with them staying at her house to play by her rules for two weeks, something owners with aggressive dogs opt to do. It’s an expensive endeavor for owners, and she feels class is the smarter way to go.
“If the dogs come into my home, then I have to transfer everything I’ve taught the dog over to the owner at some point … People need to learn, too.”
Carbone tells all of her classes: “There is such a thing as loving your dog to death.” She says 90% of dogs’ issues she’s worked with are due to being spoiled.
“The only way they can control the house is by biting you,” Carbone says. And the flip side of that is dogs constantly left alone for full days, “they will tear the house apart with separation anxiety, and that’s not fair to the dog. It makes them neurotic and aggressive.”
As for the near future, Carbone is excited Northpoint is working with her to expand the MWM program to training service dogs for veterans. Since the prison has a veterans dorm area, five men there will be trained and matched with a dog.
And, she plans on continuing her work with DBCHS and MWM, hopefully to continue expanding dogs at the prison in order to help secure an even higher adoption rate.
Ramsey says whatever Carbone is doing, she hopes she continues because it’s working. “Cheri’s expertise and passion has been an invaluable resource to DBCHS,” Ramsey says. Although Carbone shies away from the spotlight, Ramsey says, “she contributes greatly to our success.”
Warden Adams said Northpoint is lucky to have volunteers who care, like Carbone. “The institution could not operate as efficiently …. Volunteers like Cheri bring programs to the institution that otherwise would not be available to the inmate population.”
To contact Carbone about volunteering or becoming a foster home, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (859) 583-1774.
Source: The Advocate-Messenger