From the archives: Woman with mission to rescue dogs charged in Kansas prison escape

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This article was originally published on Feb. 14, 2006.

A passion for rescuing dogs consumed the Toby Young known to animal lovers across Kansas City.

So profoundly did it fill the Kansas City, Kan., woman that she quit her computer job after surviving cancer. Her life, she declared on several occasions, would be devoted to rescuing dogs from death’s door. By placing dogs about to be euthanized with trainer-inmates at the Lansing Correctional Facility, Young created something that grew into an overnight success story.

Which is why those same animal lovers were mystified Monday to learn that the woman so dearly attached to her animals now stands accused of helping a convicted killer escape from a life sentence for a fatal 1996 carjacking in Johnson County.

Young, 48, was charged Monday in Leavenworth County District Court with aiding and abetting aggravated escape and aiding a felon. Authorities, with little elaboration, said she helped John M. Manard escape from the Lansing prison on Sunday. Authorities realized he was missing at 4:35 p.m.

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Authorities declined to say why they believe she helped the escape.

The two were believed to have left in her white Ford F-150 cargo van with personalized Kansas plate “SHDOGS,” for her nonprofit program, Safe Harbor Prison Dogs. Authorities received no solid leads on the whereabouts of the van, which is registered in Wyandotte County and has the lettering www.SafeHarborPrisonDogs.com.

A multistate alert was issued for Manard and Young, and officials asked that anyone with information call 911 to alert local authorities.

Corrections officials were trying to determine how Manard gained access to Young’s van. As a medium-security inmate, he was not allowed to leave the prison without being restrained and accompanied by correctional officers. Young would not have been authorized to take him off the premises.

The escape was not recorded on surveillance cameras, said Bill Miskell, Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman. Vehicles are routinely searched as they leave the prison; investigators are trying to determine whether that happened in this case, he said.

Kansas prison escape story to air on ‘Dateline’: A dog crate, romance and a manhunt

Manard, 27, formerly of Edgerton, was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and two firearm-possession charges in the 1996 shooting death of Donald England in Johnson County. He and co-defendant Michael Yardley are serving life sentences for the murder of England, 45, who was sitting in his car at an Overland Park strip mall when the teenagers pulled him from his convertible and shot him in the chest.

During his 10 years in prison, Manard had been disciplined 18 times, mostly for lower-level offenses. His overall behavior in recent years allowed prison officials to place him in the prison’s medium-custody unit.

He was one of many inmates who volunteered to train dogs in Young’s program, which requires inmates to apply, pass a background screening and maintain a “reasonable disciplinary history.”

Manard hadn’t been cited for discipline problems since September 2004 - a month after Safe Harbor Prison Dogs was launched.

In December, Manard told The Kansas City Star that he had channeled his energy into the dog program.

“That’s about all I trust anymore. I’m not too big a fan of, people have disappointed me, shall we say. Because in here, it’s even worse. You meet the worst of the people that are out there, but then everybody out there leaves you to do it all by yourself, which, of course, I’m the one who got myself into it all by myself,” Manard said.

The escape left investigators with several unanswered questions. Among them was whether Young had contact with Manard outside the program.

After hearing that Young was missing early Monday, professional acquaintances thought Young must have been kidnapped or the victim of some other crime. A conspiracy, they believed, was unfathomable.

“That’s out of the question,” said Stacy E. Smith, a business acquaintance of Young’s who recently wrote a story about the program in Paw Prints magazine.

When she later learned of the charges, Smith said, she was stunned. She was surprised to hear that Young would leave behind her husband, a firefighter. She was almost as shocked to think that Young would abandon the dogs.

“That just doesn’t seem like her to let them go and throw caution to the wind,” Smith said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. It just doesn’t add up.”

Correctional facility employees were equally distressed to hear that Young might have deceived them. She had created what some considered to be one of the prison’s more successful programs. During regular visits, she had come to be well-respected by many.

“I think staff here at the facility are still trying to grasp what has happened,” Miskell said. “I think some people are puzzled. I think some of them are in disbelief.”

Young spent what prison officials described as countless hours working closely with the inmate-handlers. The goal, she told The Star in 2004, was to retrain dogs and help inmates at the same time.

She solicited donations and volunteers, and spent many Saturdays at the Shawnee Petsmart trying to match dogs with homes.

A Web site she helped organize was filled with emotional stories about rescues and adoptions. A weekly newsletter updated readers with her latest stories.

She e-mailed the last newsletter to readers at 8:25 a.m. Sunday.

Hours later, she was gone.

“The program has saved the lives of over 600 dogs who otherwise would have been euthanized,” said Frances Breyne, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Corrections.

The upcoming ‘Dateline’ story — titled “Breakout” — features interviews with Toby Dorr (Young) and David McKune, who was the warden at Lansing Correctional Facility when the escape happened. It is scheduled to air Friday at 9 p.m.