Prison Pups

One of the most amazing and beneficial elements about effective dog training is the impact that training has had on the seeing and hearing impaired citizens of America. Many disabled individuals have found a new sense of independence through the help of assistance dogs. Because of this, a new and exciting training system has been implemented into select American prisons in the past few decades. Organizations such as “The Puppy Project” and “Puppies Behind Bars” are helping thousands of humans and puppies alike by sending abandoned dogs to prisons to be part of a groundbreaking system in which inmates train young pups to be assistance dogs for the disabled. These dog training systems have been massively beneficial on several fronts.

Since the crest of 1981, prisons such as the Toledo Correctional Institute have joined forces with organizations including the SPCA and Assistance Dogs of America, Inc. This conglomeration between our country’s prisons and various dog training and humane societies is meant to produce dogs that are better trained and inmates that are less violent. Shocking research shows that thousands of dogs have been saved from euthanasia, countless people with disabilities have been helped by the assistance dogs that “The Puppy Project” produces, and violence rates in prisons participating in “The Puppy Project” have decreased dramatically.

The pound puppies that are lucky enough to land in shelters that participate in “The Puppy Project” are sent to prisons in hopes that, through extensive training, the chances of the pups getting adopted will increase. As the SPCA explains: “Cody was found wandering lost and alone. Fortunately he found his way to SPCA. It wasn’t long until he was taken to prison. There he paired up with his inmate trainers, “L” and Trini in “A New Leash on Life” to begin his eight weeks of basic obedience training in preparation for adoption.”

Because of “The Puppy Project” and other training organizations, blind individuals can see through the eyes of their dog when they are led across streets. The deaf can now know when someone is knocking on their front door. People without arms can suddenly grocery shop alone with the help of their assistance dog. An article in the New York Times elaborates: “Jaymie Powers, a 43-year-old mother of three grown children who is in prison for second-degree murder, is seated in a wheelchair pretending to be a disabled person shopping at a supermarket. She is working on getting a Labrador retriever, Devon, to fetch a box of cereal from a counter and place it in a straw bag. “Devon, watch me!” she commands, trying to get Devon to fix his attention on her. “Devon, up,” she says, coaxing him to climb onto the counter. It takes a while for Devon to get his mouth around the edge of the box but when he finally does, Ms. Powers orders him to “drop it!” and he does, right into the straw bag. “That’s it!” Ms. Powers says with a grin of accomplishment, while her fellow prisoners at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility applaud.”

Inmates like Jaymie Powers are working tirelessly to insure that Assistance Dogs of America, Inc. has plenty of thoroughly trained puppies available for adoption for the disabled. Even wounded veterans from the war in Iraq are being helped by prison trained assistance dogs. Patrick Cole illustrates: “In a bomb blast in Iraq last year, U.S. Army Sergeant Mary Dague lost both her arms. She has found new ones. They take the form of Remy, an amber-colored Labrador Retriever Dague received from Puppies Behind Bars, which taps New York prison inmates to train dogs for special needs.”

Violence rates in prisons that participate in “The Puppy Project” are shockingly low, even for criminals that were incarcerated for murder. According to the research of Assistance Dogs of America, ninety seven percent of inmate-trainers demonstrated improvement in their sense of empathy and lessened depression after their time spent with the puppies. Also, eighty seven percent of inmate-trainers showed major improvement in positive communication skills after training the pups, and many correctional staffs have reported an overall average decrease in general offenders acting disruptively in dorms where pups in training were assigned. Vogt, a thirty-six year old man that was jailed for second degree murder, wiped a tear away from his eye on the CBS4 Denver News and said, “I have watched this program change a bunch of people here.” Vogt’s fellow inmate added, “You get to be part of something bigger. I’ve never been in a position where I was passionate about something.”

Because of the one-on-one interaction with innocent little puppies, even the hardest of criminals are softening up drastically. Jean, a woman arrested for a brutal murder stated, “Losing Emily, the first dog I trained, brought up old feelings. It was like somebody just reached inside and took my heart. I still cry.” Elaine Lord, the superintendent at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, said of her inmates: “Most people can change. We need to give inmates meaningful work that will bring about change- because most of them will get out, and our job is to make sure they aren’t dangerous to society, but contributing members of the society.”

Nearly every criminal that has come in contact with the pound puppies has stated that he or she has changed completely from the experience. Even Roslyn D. Smith changed for the better. Roslyn committed second degree murder and robbery at the ripe age of seventeen. Smith proclaims about her experiences with the puppies:  “I’ve tried it all, from drugs to the homosexual life. I’ve been a Muslim. I’ve been a Catholic, you name it, doing whatever I could do to run away from myself. The puppies are so alive and trusting and hopeful, you can’t help but become a better person for them, and for yourself.”

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