More puppies should be sent to jail. I say this as an animal lover and someone who realizes our prisons are already bursting with inmates. So why crowd prisons further with dogs? Because people both inside and outside of "the big house" are finding freedom and dignity thanks to a unique program in New England called Puppies Behind Bars. Puppies Behind Bars (PBB), founded in 1997, utilizes inmates in seven New York area prisons to raise and train puppies to become service dogs and bomb detection canines. Participants are put through a rigorous screening process before they receive the 8-week-old puppy, which they will work with, and nurture for the next 16 to 18 months. Once admitted into the program the puppy raisers are required to attend weekly classes, complete homework assignments, work effectively in a team, and take regular exams.
So far the program has placed dogs with blind children, disabled veterans, bomb squads and many others. The charity is rated a four star non-profit (highest ranking possible) by Charity Navigator for their excellent allocation of funds and the success of the program. But beyond the stark facts and figures are the human lives that are enriched and redeemed by tiny and helpless eight-week-old puppies.
When researching Puppies Behind Bars the phrase I heard repeated like a drumbeat is “I feel human again.” The inmates rise above the stigma of being a “bad girl” or “bad guy” and give back to society instead of taking from it. The puppies also allow them to love something, to roll around on the ground and play, and to talk to something that never judges – for many this is the first time they have ever experienced these joys. The inmate’s experiences are echoed in the freedoms the dogs grant the individuals who receive them after training. Whether it’s a veteran who has trouble adjusting to life back home or a person trapped by their disability the dogs become the friend and assistance they need to mount daily obstacles.
Currently, PBB has 292 working dogs. Sixty-eight are Service dogs throughout the United States and 185 work as Explosive Detection Canines (EDC) in the USA and abroad. Thirteen others function as companion and therapy dogs for blind children.
Volunteers are regularly needed by the PBB for socializing puppies and the Paws and Reflect program. The Paws and Reflect volunteers take the dogs to visit the homebound elderly in New York City which helps the puppies socialize and allows seniors to receive much needed puppy kisses. If you are interested in volunteering for PBB, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org asking for more information.