Puppies Behind Bars: How Raising Service Dogs Changes Inmates

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic
Dogs have the pawesome powers to bring change when we least expect it. This time, that happened in Tennessee, where little balls of fur are transforming the lives of inmates.

It’s no secret that canine companionship has therapeutic effects. Service dogs are trained to make the lives of their owners more comfortable and safer, but, in this case, they started improving lives even before their graduation.

At the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Tennessee, inmates are in charge of teaching basic obedience and more than 30 commands to help adults, children and veterans with disabilities. All of the inmates volunteered to help bring up the puppies, but the selection was rigorous- the inmates were judged on factors such as longevity of the sentence, conduct, and character. Now, the Tennessee branch of puppy raising program in collaboration with Canine Companions for Independence counts six inmates and their puppies.

The dogs go through their training sessions each day, but after that, they are free to play and enjoy their puppyhood. During the night, the puppies are placed in large kennels right next to their handlers. Although the tiny canines are advancing well in their studies and enjoy the attention and care they get, it is the positive effect this program had on inmates that seems to be the most rewarding.

The Canine Companions prison puppy raising program is the best of both worlds,” says Dr. Brenda Kennedy, Canine Companions Director of Canine Health and Research. “As an inmate, raising a puppy has a positive impact on everyone involved on these incredible dogs’ journeys.”

The handlers are appreciative of the chance they got to spend time with dogs, and their four-legged friends seem to make quite an impression on them. In prisons which participate in this program, the rates of recidivism are dropping, and the ability to do something good for the community gives inmates a more positive perspective.

Something about raising her touched me so deeply that it changed the way I behave now,” says inmate Joseph of his puppy Shawna. “Shawna taught me how to love.”

It seems that there isn’t a person on the planet that couldn’t benefit from some puppy love! And the best part is: all of the pooches that have brighten the lives of inmates will go on to make someone else happy, thanks to their handler’s efforts.

How’s that for a gift that keeps on giving?

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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