The Dog Inmate Bond

Puppies learn — and teach — good behavior in prison training programs.

By | Posted: Tue May 29 00:00:00 PDT 2001

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The same transformation occurs at the Washington State Women's Correctional Facility, where shelter dogs work their magic on inmates who join the Prison Pet Partnership Program. The dogs live with the inmates, some of whom have two and occasionally three dogs in their 8-by-10-foot cells. About 500 dogs have been trained and placed as "paroled pets" with families and people with disabilities since the nonprofit program's incorporation in 1991.

The program gives inmates a companion to love and care for and teaches vocational skills.

The heart of the program is a full-service 28-dog public boarding kennel staffed by inmate-trainer pet-care technicians certified by the American Boarding Kennel Association. The kennel offers all-breed grooming by inmate animal hygienists certified by the Western World Pet Association, as well as obedience training by inmates supervised by professional trainers who conduct in-house weekly classes. A team of 20 volunteers takes the dogs into the community weekly for exposure and socialization.

The success of dogs plus prisoners is powerful evidence of the benefits of the human-animal connection. As in most research, it's not the statistics but the stories, the touching details about the dogs that enter the unique world of the incarcerated, that best present the case for animals as therapists and rehabilitators in our lives.

In Oregon, inmate Shelley shares her cell with her third Canine Companions for Independence dog, a Golden Retriever named Pearson. It's her way of getting ready for the world.

Shelley's first CCI puppy, Tweed, graduated from advanced training last year as an assistance dog for Stephanie, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. Stephanie could have taken the dog home and begun her new life right away, but instead she and her husband and two daughters wanted to see where Tweed was raised and meet the inmate who raised him.

As she watched the family's joy, Shelley realized she was capable of giving something positive to the community that someday will be hers again.

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