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“Puppies Behind Bars” Changes the Lives of Many

By Langley Cornwell

Puppies Behind Bars was featured on Oprah Winfrey several years ago and started making headlines. The organization caught my attention because 1) it’s about animals and 2) it highlights what the “love of a dog can do for your life.” All true animal lovers can attest to the truth of that statement, but Puppies Behind Bars is a wonderful illustration of just how true that statement really is.

Today, the organization continues to do wonderful work, bringing the love of a puppy into the lives of inmates who are taught how to train eight-week-old puppies to become service dogs for the disabled, including wounded veterans.

Most of these inmates have never known love or responsibility, with many having been told their entire life that they are worthless, and these precious puppies can teach them both. Not only is the offender’s life changed forever, but the life of someone who needs their assistance is also forever changed for the better.

Inmates who raise these puppies take part in an extraordinary effort that is often challenging but brings great rewards. The pups live in the cells with the inmates, who are designated as their primary raisers. They take their pups to classes to teach them basic obedience skills. The inmates are responsible for all of the puppies’ needs including feeding them nutritious dog food like CANIDAE.

Remarkably, inmates take these tiny pups that were not housebroken and had no training whatsoever and, in sixteen months, transform them in well-behaved young dogs that are a joy to be around.

The main component of their training is to socialize the dogs and make sure they become confident – the most important trait for a working dog to have. In the process, the inmates gain skills as well as confidence and self-esteem themselves.

According to the Puppies Behind Bars president, Gloria Gilbert Stoga, “The raisers, too, have matured: the responsibility of raising a dog for a disabled person and the opportunity to give back to society are being taken very seriously. Puppy raisers show the pups tenderness and love, which had not been given expression before, and are deeply committed to supplying the solid foundations upon which guide dogs are made.”

Currently, the prisons that are involved in the program are located in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The inmates chosen to raise a puppy are thoroughly screened by the staff of the correctional facility as well as by personnel with Puppies Behind Bars. The individuals chosen must have a clean prison disciplinary record for at least two years, and be someone who is deemed reliable and trustworthy by prison officials.

If an inmate meets all of these requirements, they are then interviewed by the staff at PBB who ultimately decides who to admit to the program based on all of the above factors. Once a puppy raiser is chosen, they are required to sign a contract with PBB outlining their responsibilities and the strict requirements. This includes mandatory attendance at weekly puppy class, successful completion of reading assignments, homework and exams, in addition to other criteria. The puppy and their raiser are housed together in an individual cell.

While it’s difficult to break the emotional attachment the inmate has formed with the puppy when it’s time for him to become a service dog or join law enforcement school, ultimately, they feel very fulfilled knowing that they have contributed to society instead of taking from it.

In the case of Sgt. Allen Hill who suffered from traumatic brain injury and severe combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, he is grateful for his new canine companion who has helped him to overcome paralyzing, violent flashbacks.

There is certainly nothing like a little puppy love to change the world, and a number of lives, for the better.

Top photo by Jerry Frausto
Bottom photo by JennieMarie

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