Edie spent her days as a homeless scavenger roaming the streets in search of food until a property owner, tired of the salt-and-pepper mixed breed's traipsing over his lawn, blasted the dog with a muzzleloader. After the dog's emergency care, humane society workers handed Edie over to Aaron Gray, who spent sleepless nights cleaning her wounds and administering medicine.

But then, Gray has plenty of time on his hands. He's an inmate at Mansfield Correctional Institution, serving a 61/2-year sentence for aggravated vehicular assault. For the past six months, he has worked inside the prison walls as a dog trainer responsible for helping to turn wild-eyed strays into family pets.

Edie "had been shot by a 12-gauge," said Gray, 28, of Cleveland. "She had 40 stitches, and her rear end was basically in two pieces. Now, she's playing with the other dogs."

For castaways such as Edie -- known as "death row dogs" because they have been saved from the gas chamber -- the prison represents a new lease on life. And working with dogs has given a new lease on life to many of Ohio's prison inmates.

Ohio is so enamored with the Tender Loving Care program, pairing strays with inmates, that the program now operates in 30 of the state's 33 prisons. Prison officials contend that the introduction of warm and cuddly creatures reduces jailhouse violence.

"The dogs have had a quieting effect on the inmate population," said Robert Riddle, Mansfield's deputy warden for special services, who acknowledges that he initially scoffed at the idea. "I thought the dogs were going to come in and bite people. But the guys have done a great job. The dogs allow them to be more human."

The dog training program has stoked a love of animals Gray gained as a child, when he constantly brought home strays he found on the street. Several of the dogs he has trained in prison have gone to other owners, but he got so attached to Edie that his family has decided to care for her until he is released.

"It's brought me closer to my family," he said. "We have something to talk about."

And it keeps him out of trouble. "This isn't a place to meet friends," he said. "This is a place to do time. [The dogs] are my friends; they won't betray me."

The town of Mansfield, about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus along Interstate 71, is home to three prisons, including the reformatory where the movie "The Shawshank Redemption" was filmed. Brenda Kauffman, president of the Ashland County Humane Society, had no connection with the prisons' high fences, guard towers and razor wire when officials there first approached her about starting the program.

"I saw the possibilities," Kauffman said. "I believe in retraining animals. The more you can do for the dog, the better their lives. A lot of these animals are throwaways."

Animals typically arrive having suffered some form of abuse. Many are so afraid of human contact that they lash out at anyone who approaches. There are rescued greyhounds that spent their entire lives shuttling between cages and dirt racetracks, with little interaction with humans or other dogs.

Here, the dogs live in inmates' 8-by-10-foot cells, get walked several times each day, and are showered with attention by inmates and guards.

At weekly sessions led by dog trainer Therese Backowski, the animals are taught to sit, stay, come and control their temper -- all the things that will be needed for them to be successfully placed with a family. She instructs inmates to be firm but fair with reprimands.

"This is not to make [the dog] feel stupid or inadequate but to make him feel successful," she said at a recent Wednesday afternoon training session. Some dogs trained here have been placed with families as far away as Chicago and Florida.

Many of the inmate trainers have been convicted of serious crimes, including murder. Even the most hardened, however, can be suckers for the dogs. They get down on the floor and talk in playful voices to the dogs.

No tax dollars go into the program, officials said, and the animals' food is donated or purchased with the $100 adoption fees.

Participation is considered a privilege, because trainers have slightly more freedom of movement than other inmates. Sex offenders and child abusers are not allowed to participate. Inmates must maintain good behavior.

"It makes inmates realize that they can't just reach out and slug somebody," said Roma Paulsen, a prison secretary who has helped run the program since it started in 1995.

Inmate Mark Painter, who has trained more than 15 dogs in three years, said initially it was hard to part with an animal with which he had spent so much time. Now, he said, he looks forward to getting a dog ready to go home with a family and starting fresh with a new one. His latest project is a 21/2-year-old coon hound named Blue.

"It helps pass the time," said Painter, 34, who is serving nine years for aggravated felonious assault. "It gives me something to look forward to."

Painter also keeps records for the program, including histories of shots and lists of donations. He's grateful to have something meaningful to do, but says there's little question about who gets the better end of the deal.

"Him," he said, pointing to an excited Blue. "He gets to go home."

Prisoners and their dogs at Ohio's Mansfield Correctional Institution take part in a weekly training session.Inmate Aaron Gray lies with Sunshine and Edie, right, a stray he nursed back to health in his cell. His family in Cleveland plans to care for Edie until his release.