Dogs helped Dawn find a new life

Murphy, Amber and Izzy lay on mattresses, cuddled up in blankets, resting after a long morning walk.

Their "auntie" wraps them snuggly, petting them and encouraging them to rest. Axle, a mellow, handsome German shepard looks on, several feet back.

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"Auntie" (and "mom" to Amber) is Dawn Taylor, owner of New Dawn Doggie Daycare, a New Westminster-based daycare centre Taylor founded seven years ago, when she was released from prison.

Taylor spent more than a decade in prison, after being found guilty of second-degree murder of her common-law boyfriend. Taylor says she acted in self-defense to protect herself from her boyfriend, who she says was physically abusive. The courts found otherwise.

The time Taylor spent in jail was difficult, but there was one bright spot.

Taylor started working with dogs through the B.C. dog program while inside.

"Because I'd gone into a dysfunctional volatile culture that I'd never been introduced to or had any kind of understanding about, prison culture, dogs gave me hope, they gave me a reason to keep going everyday," she says.

Taylor was often scared but didn't show it.

"If you show fear, you don't survive," she says.

Taylor had severe depression, but dog training helped her through. The dogs kept her from using drugs to escape the unhappiness and gave her life purpose.

"What this program did for the prison, was it changed it to a calmer atmosphere," she says, explaining the impact of the dog-training program.

The kennel was her life, Taylor says. "That was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, I figured," she says.

There was a "tight regiment" of who was allowed in and out of the kettle program in the prison, Taylor explains.

"We had a lot of exposure, and we had to make the community understand that it was OK to bring these dogs into our program so we could get these dogs into the SPCA, and then it took off. A year ahead of time they were phoning. People wanted their dogs in the program."

Through newspaper coverage, people learned about what they were doing and wanted their dogs trained by the inmates.

They rescued many dogs, retrained them and got them used to being with humans, she says.

"We changed the way that society viewed women in prison because of the work we were doing," she adds.

Taylor, who says she had a perfect prison record, was committed to the program, but not every inmate could maintain her level of devotion.

"There was a steady of me and another girl. Others would come in and out. They come in wanting to get a good shot at it, then they'd get released, go back to the same lifestyle and they'd see them again months later," she says.

The revolving doors she saw in the system was something Taylor wanted to change.

"As far as I was concerned, if this was going to be my life and I had no other place to be, I was going to do the best job I could to make sure that these animals were saved and that anybody's animals that came to us were better after they left."

When she was released from prison seven years ago, Taylor says she initially experienced culture shock - the technological boom of the new millennium - cellphones and computers everywhere. The world had changed since she went in more than a decade earlier.

But there was no question what she would do - her life went to the dogs. With the help of the New Westminster-based Elizabeth Fry Society, Taylor launched her business from the society's headquarters in Sapperton.

"I knew I was meant to do this because I wouldn't be so good at it if I wasn't," says Taylor, who stops traffic when she's out walking her diverse pack.

Kerry Elliott owns Axle, the handsome three-year-old, 90-pound male German shepard.

Elliott's been sending Axle to New Dawn for a year-and-a-half.

"I took him there because I needed help to make sure he had the proper training," Elliott says. "She's a qualified person, she's certified and registered. She was recommended by another dog trainer, because she does behavioural work.

"He's been very fortunate to have her because of the good care and training," she says.

Elliott says she has health issues and she can't walk Axle.

"The walking and the behavioural help have made a huge difference," she says.

The dogs are not distracted when they walk with Taylor, Elliott says.

"She has the love, the care and the knowledge, and besides that she's funny. So it doesn't get any better than that for me," says Elliott.

Taylor relocated her business to Front Street, to expand.

But the move has meant more overhead, and she's hoping to have even more pups to care for.

Taylor offers everything from grooming services to daycare to boarding.

Her dog trainer hero is Cesar Millan. She's seen the famous dog guru twice.

(One of her tickets to his appearance is framed on the wall inside her daycare.)

"I have a beautiful style of training that I think reflects Cesar's way. I'm not as beautiful as him because he's way more practiced, and he has a totally calm energy. He's got the gift. I have a gift, but I'm not the whisperer, but I am damn close. I believe in giving people the opportunity to have a calm, gentle life with their dog."

Taylor says she specializes in dogs with behavioural issues.

"Most of the daycares won't take the dogs that show any form of aggression, at all," she says. "The dogs that don't get to go anywhere, these are the ones we want here."

Then she adds, "Maybe all of the children I didn't get to have, these are definitely my children, and I'm their auntie Dawn."

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