There’s no end to what dogs can do: saving humans from harm, sniffing out fires or alerting us to high blood sugar levels, for starters.
In this case, dogs are the link between a group of inmates at the California City Correctional Facility and a 14-year-old girl battling cancer.
Sure, the two couldn’t be more different — but in life both have a strong connection to dogs. Through an intense rehabilitation program created by Marley Mutts Dog Rescue, these inmates train dogs saved from death row.
Now the men who work with the Pawsitive Change program are sending much-needed support to a girl named Chloe, a Marley Mutts volunteer who is battling cancer, after the founder of the rescue, Zach Skow, told them her story.
Skow brought a cardboard cut-out of Chloe — who underwent a seemingly successful bone marrow transplant on Tuesday — to the prison, and many of the inmates were inspired to write her letters. So far, 30 inmates have put pen to paper and sent mail Chloe’s way.
“Chloe has given them a chance to bond together and honestly express themselves emotionally, something they very rarely do in prison, if ever,” Skow tells PEOPLE in an email. “She has given them an excuse to be vulnerable as a group, outside racial lines, which is very, very rare.”
“My name is Tod and I am here at the Pawsitive Change Program,” reads one note to Chloe. “Zach talks about you and has told us what you are going through. I’m not writing you to talk about that.”
The letter from Tod continues: “We go into the visiting room and the first thing we see is you smiling at us, Zach brought in a life-size cardboard cut out of you. Everyone has big smiles on their faces and are truly happy to see us, it is a good feeling.”
“Lots of pictures were taken and what’s really cool is you pop up everywhere, so you are in a lot of pictures,” says the letter.
The dogs are their common ground, and it’s amazing how they’ve brought the inmates and Chloe together.
“Chloe follows our Pawsitive Change prison program religiously,” says Skow, “and knows who all of the dogs and inmates are.”
The teenager, who will be in the hospital for the next several weeks — where pictures of her own dogs and other therapy dogs are pinned up on the walls, as she pointed out in one Facebook live video — needs all the support she can get, especially for the next 100 days, which Skow says will be her most difficult to date.
Thursday was a tough one for Chloe, who wrote in a Facebook post: “Trying to turn this frown around, but today has been a rough day!” referring to frequent nausea, itching and pain following the transplant (the marrow came courtesy of her brother).
Skow, who is hitting the road to raise money for lymphoma research in her honor — with Chloe’s cardboard cutout in tow — knows the determined teen’s future is bright.
“What I hope for Chloe in the future is, and I know will happen, is a successful taking of her bone marrow transplant and a 100 percent recovery,” he tells PEOPLE. “But, I also know will happen is that she will become part of our Miracle Mutts program and get the therapy dog she has been wanting to train all her life. I think the idea of joining the Miracle Mutts team is one of the things that’s making her fight so hard.”