A worker in the Safe Harbor Prison Dog program said she warned Toby Young - her friend and boss - against getting too close to Lansing prison inmate John Manard.
"I suspected," said Jessica Kirby, who is deaf and agreed to an interview via e-mail this week. "They were really close and I've told her over and over that he was manipulative. But she chose not to listen."
Kirby began working in the program, which pairs rescued dogs with inmates, in September 2005. But she had known the program's founder, Toby Young, more than a year through their shared passion as dog rescuers.
Kirby wasn't with Young at the prison the morning of Feb. 12 when, authorities say, Young drove the Safe Harbor van out of the prison gates with Manard, a dog handler in the program, hidden inside in a dog crate.
News of the escape surprised Kirby, but she soon came to accept the assertion of prison officials that Young was an accomplice in Manard's breakout.
Young and Manard are now fugitives. Authorities say Manard's escape was well-planned and carried out with Young's help. The two are thought to have left with more than $10,000 cash and two semiautomatic pistols; they may have changed their appearances with the aid of hair dye and an electric razor.
Signs of trouble
In retrospect, Kirby said there were any number of signs leading up to the escape that should have signaled something amiss with Young, including:
¢ In the period leading up to the escape, Young stopped keeping detailed notes about medical information on the dogs in the program. She also stopped bringing Kirby the distemper shots needed for the dogs.
¢ Young stopped taking Kirby to the prison for three weeks.
¢ Young expressed anger at the rescue community for criticism of the Safe Harbor program.
¢ On Feb. 11, the day prior to the escape, Young disappeared from the Safe Harbor adoption clinic, leaving just three people to handle the dogs and speak with potential adopters. Kirby, who is diabetic, said Young "was very late with our lunch and my blood sugar was getting low. I was torn between the dogs and my own medical need."
¢ The day of the prison break, Kirby went to a barn where dogs waiting to go into the program are kept. She found three short-haired dogs from the prison outside without water or protection from the wind. They had been left there by Young, something Kirby never expected from a fellow animal lover.
Kirby said she feels bad now for not saying anything about Young's erratic behavior.
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"I just worked and worked : yet did nothing," Kirby said. "I should have pulled her aside and told her to take sabbatical leave for a week or so. I should have told somebody at the prison that they were becoming too close. And I thought too little of myself to talk to the prison staff about my observations, for I thought they would laugh at me for they enjoyed the media attention of this program. I should have tried anyway. I'll live with that for rest of my life."
Kirby said she and Young had a "good working relationship. Not perfect, but close to it."
Kirby said she saw the good and bad in Manard.
She said he was the best dog handler among the inmates and that dogs were drawn to him. Kirby believed Manard was a dog whisperer.
"I don't claim to understand, but I know what I saw and studied," Kirby said.
She used as an example the story of a female Lab mix that "dragged me all over the place without stopping, nearly pulling my shoulder out of place. Then after a week with Manard, she walked beautifully on leash. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! One week! Usually it takes six months for average people" to train a dog on leash.
She said Manard, who was serving a life term for a 1996 carjacking and slaying, was a different person around the dogs.
"His face was stoic until he saw the dogs, and he came alive horsing around with them."
Kirby said she puts a lot of trust in dogs being the best judges of character. And the dogs, she said, loved Manard.
But there was Manard's other side, too.
She said she, Young and Manard once got into a discussion about whether to crop the tails off some Doberman puppies. Kirby thought they should be left naturally; Manard took the opposite stance. They ended up toe-to-toe and Kirby said Manard's eyes came alive.
"The point of sharing this story is that I saw in his eyes how excited he was at the prospect of a mental fight," Kirby said. "He didn't care whether the puppies were cropped. He wanted some excitement in his life, and he got that by verbally arguing with other people."
Prior to the Safe Harbor program, Kirby said, prison had made Manard a dead man walking. He was in for life, his family stopped calling on him, he had nothing but a bleak future.
"There is no excuse at all for murder," Kirby said. "Even being on drugs, he still could choose not to kill. Yet, John Manard's family abandoned him. He is still a human - a murderer yet a human all the same. They have their reasons. I'm not judging them. I'm just stating a fact that he was a dead man walking and that changed when he was accepted into Safe Harbor."
Kirby said she guessed the couple were in Mexico.
As for what Manard and Young are doing, Kirby offered this assessment.
"They're dealing with stress. Bickering about where to go," Kirby said. "He is no longer at her mercy and reveling in his freedom yet knowing he's being hounded. : And sex gets old fast. Even with a person you love and respect. So they're bickering : I'm sure of it."
Meanwhile, Kirby continues to work with Safe Harbor. And she said she still had a deep attachment to Young.
"While I'm very angry at Toby for the choice she made, I still love her," Kirby said.
The anger stems from what will happen to Safe Harbor, the dogs in the program and the dogs that never might be saved because of Young's help in springing Manard from the prison.
"Her vision of the program was incredible," Kirby said of Young, "and it's biting the dust all over the country. Many people have been working on copying the program but : the recent event has caused a lot of damage. In the process, many (dog) deaths that could have been prevented have occurred."