Phil Wasserman

Prison Dog Programs Save Animals, Offenders Alike

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 27: Georgia women prison inmates lead their Labrador puppies during guide dog training at Metro State Prison August 27, 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia. The I.M.P.A.C.T. program (Inmates Providing Animal Care and Training) teams inmates with puppies provided by Southeastern Guide Dog, Inc., for a 16-month program of training with a volunteer obedience instructor. The Georgia Department of Corrections then returns the dogs for advanced training, ultimately providing guide dogs to the visually impaired. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GA – AUGUST 27: Georgia women prison inmates lead their Labrador puppies during guide dog training at Metro State Prison August 27, 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia. The I.M.P.A.C.T. program (Inmates Providing Animal Care and Training) teams inmates with puppies provided by Southeastern Guide Dog, Inc., for a 16-month program of training with a volunteer obedience instructor. The Georgia Department of Corrections then returns the dogs for advanced training, ultimately providing guide dogs to the visually impaired. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

When you first hear the idea, putting dogs in need of training together with prisoners might sound like an awful idea. The thought of offenders with dogs sends some into an immediate opposing stance. But, once you see the improvement both the dogs and humans undergo it’s virtually impossible to not be in favor of this initiative.

In 1981, Sister Pauline Quinn introduced the first program of its kind in Washington state after she suffered from years of neglect in institutions during an awful childhood. In short time, programs launched in prisons across the country. Research and data show the therapeutic effect the program has on human and dogs alike. But it’s the stories from program participants that truly speak the magnitude of the program’s success.

A quick Google search reiterates these findings, like the prisoners that helped train dogs to aid people with disabilities in Tennessee. “When they said it was helping people with epilepsy, diabetes and it was mostly kids that we were helping I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” said inmate Mike Jones. “I wanted to give back as much as I possibly could since I came to prison.” Or how about the story of the tough guy prisoners giving 9-year-old chihuahua Chiller the skills to find a forever home after his previous owner took his own life.

Not only did the program help dogs like Chiller, it gave these inmates a purpose. In a place like a prison that strips you of your name and assigns you an ID number, seeing these trainers emblazon “Dog Trainer” on the backs of the uniforms is incredible. Everyone involved has a sense of purpose and a direction.

I can’t recommend a better feel good story than ones like these.

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