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Puppies In Prison?!?

Updated on June 22, 2009

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Yes. It’s true. Puppies are now living in prisons. Apparently local humane societies/animal shelters have had enough of the shenanigans of some pups and have sentenced them to serve time behind bars with their human counterparts. That’ll show them!

No. I’m being funny (or at least trying to be). There are puppies in prisons as I type this, but for a wonderful reason. Recently featured on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, Puppies Behind Bars is a program that allows inmates at various American prisons (the Fishkill Correctional Facility in upstate New York is the one I’m most familiar with) to care for and train puppies so that they (the puppies) can one day act as service dogs and companions for disabled individuals and for veterans. Though it was Oprah who told viewers about this program, it was Glenn Close who informed Oprah. After volunteering at a local women’s prison and seeing how much good this program was doing for those women, Close had to get the word out. Thanks to both women the general public is now aware of this (at least in my opinion) win-win program.

Yet, there will be people (namely victims and their families) who will criticize this program. After all, these inmates are serving time for such crimes as abuse, robbery and murder. People will argue that it isn’t fair that these people who disrupted ( and even ruined) innocent people’s lives should be allowed to feel and express love during a time when they are supposed to be centering on all of the wrong they have done. These people will view these puppies as only a distraction and/or another example of the system caring more about criminals than about the victims. Unfortunately, some people will be unable to see the good in this program.

As for me, I believe it to be a very necessary program for a few reasons.

  • Responsibility
  • This program forces the puppy parent to become responsible and understand that another life (the puppy’s) matters more than their own. From what I know, the inmates are given an eight week old puppy and are told to care for it. Though I’m sure officers oversee the training and the welfare of the animal, the inmate is the one with the responsibility. They must feed, bathe and train the puppy until it is deemed ready to be given to a person in need. The puppy sleeps in the inmate’s cell and is never meant to be out of the inmate’s sight.
  • Unbreakable Bond
  • Due to this constant interaction, both inmate and puppy form a bond that can never be broken. If you are to assume (as many social rights groups would have you assume) that most criminals are just people who didn’t get enough love and nurturing as children, this program caters to that need. For as long as the puppy is under their care, they know that no matter what kind of a day they’re having the puppy will love them unconditionally. For many of these prisoners, this may be exactly what they needed to be inspired to live a better life.
  • Puppies Need Love
  • Just as the inmates need to know that someone loves them so do the puppies. Though people under estimate them, I firmly believe that puppies know when they are needed. These inmates need these puppies as much as the puppies need them. While it is true that the inmates will only be a part of their lives for a short time, every minute of love means something. In an ideal world, we all would be able to touch as many lives as these puppies do.
  • Assistance
  • The major point of the program is to train these puppies to be service dogs. Once they leave the prison each dog must take on the demanding task of making sure a human’s life improves. They must be the eyes and ears for many. For others, they need only be a bright reminder to a veteran that their service has ended and that one day the bad dreams will end too. By training these dogs, these inmates have not only improved their own life, but the life of whoever comes in contact with their trainee.

With these things in mind, I can only hope that others will embrace this program too. Too often, we give up on criminals because we forget that one wrong act does not make one a lost cause. So angered and hurt by all of the pain and chaos they have sent out into the community by committing their crime, we want to banish them to a world where happiness no longer exists and redemption is a myth. Being born innocent, these dogs don’t know who is training them. All they see is a smiling face and a need to be filled. May we all be able to look at the world through the eyes of a dog at least once before our life is through.


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