by Caroline Golon
When Maria Dunbar of Toledo, Ohio was sentenced to two years in prison, she knew she’d hit rock bottom. What she didn’t know was that helping homeless dogs would help turn her life around in more ways than one.
While incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW), Maria joined the Second Chance Greyhound Program, where she earned her Dog Training Certification. “It was there that my rehabilitation had begun,” Maria said.
In the program, Maria trained retired racing dogs to become adoptable pets. The work changed her outlook. “I learned to be patient, compassionate, and trustworthy,” Maria said. “I began to trust again, as well. I let my guard down for the first time in a long time.”
But once she left prison, she had a hard time. “I struggled to find the peace I felt when I was with the dogs,” she recalled. Soon after, her mother died, sending Maria into a downward spiral of sadness, anger and regret.
One day she found herself at an adoption event for Toledo’s PET bull Project. “I had no idea it would change my entire life,” Maria recalled.
When adoption team members asked Maria if she would be interested in adopting or volunteering, her answer was terse. “I declined harshly, stating that I was just released from prison and that my mom had just passed. I believe my exact words were, ‘You don’t want someone like me.’”
But she was wrong. Cindy Reinsel the Director of Toledo’s Pet Bull Project had been looking for someone exactly like Maria to help train and rescue dogs. So Maria joined their efforts.
Maria had yet to adopt a dog of her own, however. She didn’t feel ready. Until she met Peanut. Peanut, a whippet mix, was a mess. She’d been abused; was terrified of people, and trusted no one. But Maria knew what to do. “I gave her plenty of space, lots of love,” she recalled.
And little by little Peanut grew more trusting. But when it was time to put Peanut up for adoption, “it didn’t feel right,” Maria said.
“When the applications started coming in for this beautiful girl, I realized I rescued her, I rehabilitated her, and she was just starting to trust me and show affection. I deserved her. By giving her a second chance at life, I gave myself a chance to love again. We both were starting over together.”
Maria’s story of redemption took another turn when, for a chance to win her favorite rescue a grant, she entered her story about Peanut’s rescue into the Petco Foundation and Halo, Purely for Pets Holiday Wishes contest.
She was shocked to learn that her story had won a $25,000 grant for Toledo’s PET bull Project.
Director Cindy Reinsel told ABC 13 that the grant is more than half of the rescue’s annual operating budget, “We’re always behind on our bills and we are always in the red, so this means the world to us!”
To Maria, it’s proof that when you put good out into the world, it comes back to you.
“Cindy has been my mentor, my role model and a true support system. To be able to help make this happen for her and all the animals the Pet Bull Project helps, is wonderful,” Maria said.