Cell Dogs - Healing For All Involved

A Cell Dog Is My Best Friend

Sometimes, when you are doing something completely non-related, something will pop into your head - something you've seen, a song you know, a movie you saw years ago, but can't remember its name. This happens to me quite often. So as I was wandering around my apartment, doing various boring domestic chores, something popped into my head to make me think. I thought for so long that I had to write about it. What was I thinking of? Cell Dogs.

Now, you might be asking, Cell Dogs? What the heck is that all about? If you know anything about me, you know that I love all animals. I believe that they enrich our lives and make our lives so much more exciting, so much richer than they would have been without them. Cell Dogs epitomizes this to the letter.

Cell Dogs was a program on Animal Planet chronicling a new program for inmates of prisons. This program took dogs from local shelters and animal rescue programs and put them in the hands of a prisoner. Yes, that's right, a prisoner. Many of these prisoners were hardened criminals, in for horrible crimes - murder, fraud, robbery. Although these crimes are serious, there was a criteria that had to be met to be involved in the program. The inmates could not have been in prison for animal abuse or child molestation, among other factors. The "best and brightest" of the prison were chosen to take care of these dogs whose problems were just as varied as the prisoners - some could not be housebroken, some were so shy they could not walk, some just needed to learn basic commands. In all cases, the prisoners were the dogs last hope for adoption. To change these dogs would take a lot of work - and a lot of love.

Love? Love from people who have murdered, robbed, assaulted their fellow human being? How can this be? That, my friends, is the beauty of the program. As you watch, you can see the prisoners transforming along with their dogs. Their face no longer hardened, they realize they are caring for someone else, that someone else is solely dependent on them. They have a purpose. Instead of just sitting in their cells, or lifting weights all day, they have a higher cause. These dogs really mean something to them; they represent life itself. As one prisoner put it, he would never get a chance to leave the prison walls - but he was going to make damn sure that his dog made it out and went to a loving family.

The key to this program, besides the love given and received, is the time the prisoners have. Animal shelters and rescues are so overrun with homeless animals with issues and problems, it's hard to find the staff - and the time - to work with these animals. For the prisoners inside, they have nothing but time. The prisoners are responsible for all aspects of the dogs' care - from grooming and bathing, to brushing their teeth, to the training the dogs receive. You watch these dogs transform, and it really is something to see.

The statistics speak for themselves.  After the program begins, the head of the prison remarks that the relationships between the prisoners drastically improves.  One of the guards says that he hasn't had to break up a fight between prisoners in six months since the dogs arrived.  The prisoners have something to talk about to the guards, and their relationships improve.  Euthanasia in the county dramatically drops as more and more dogs are being adopted out to their forever homes.  One of the most touching parts of the program is when one inmate has to let his dog go, as she is being adopted.  He begins to tear up - but he has no time to grieve.  His next dog is being taken to the prison as he is being filmed. 

I know that some of these people have committed heinous crimes.  These programs provide win-win situations.  The prisoners have something to look forward to.  The whole attitude of the prison changes.  The dogs have a chance at a forever home.  Many of these programs are being adopted all over the United States, and the key is that they are working.  I'm not saying that these prisoners should be let back into society.  They need to serve their time.  But what a wonderful way to serve it, and to give back to society a little bit of what they took away.

My hope is that prisons all over the world will adopt these programs.  The healing it provides for all is unbelievable.  I wish that Animal Planet still showed this program; I would definitely be watching.  These animals never judge their keeper, and their keeper never judges them.  It is further proof about how the power of love for an animal can awaken humanity and love in even the hardest of hearts.  As one prisoner said about his dog "She opened us up to our softer sides, and I guess we liked it".  Enough said.

For a list of similar programs in your homestate, please check out this link: http://www.coyotecom.com/dogs/prisondogs.html

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