By James MacLean
PBB strives to meet the current needs of the communities in which we work and has expanded its goals accordingly. After the events of September 11, 2001, law enforcement agencies’ need for working dogs increased dramatically. To help meet this demand, PBB added the training of explosive detection canines (EDCs) to its program. In 2006, PBB started raising dogs to assist disabled children and adults and launched Dog Tags: Service Dogs for Those Who’ve Served Us,through which we donate fully trained service dogs to wounded soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The pups live in the cells with their primary raisers, go to classes administered by Puppies Behind Bars once a week, and are furloughed two or three weekends a month to ‘puppy sitters’ who take the dogs into their homes in order to expose them to things they won’t experience in prison. These can be as simple as hearing doorbells or the sounds of a coffee grinder, and as complex as learning how to ride in a car and walk down a crowded sidewalk.
The puppies live in prison for sixteen months, after which they are tested to determine their suitability for training as service dogs for the disabled or explosive detection canines for law enforcement. If they are deemed suitable, Puppies Behind Bars returns them to the schools where they continue their formal training. If they do not continue on the track to become working dogs, Puppies Behind Bars donates them to families with blind children. In either case, these puppies, raised in such a unique environment, spend their lives as companions to people who need them.
After working with the puppy raisers and their puppies, I am proud of what is being accomplished. The inmates have taken tiny little creatures, who were not housebroken, did not know their names, and obeyed no commands, and have transformed them into well-behaved young pups who are a joy to be around. The raisers, too, have matured: the responsibility of raising a dog for a disabled person and the opportunity to give back to society are being taken very seriously. Puppy raisers show the pups tenderness and love, which had not been given expression before, and are deeply committed to supplying the solid foundations upon which guide dogs are made.
The puppies have affected the lives not only of their puppy raisers, but of virtually all the inmates and staff at the prison. It is literally impossible to walk a puppy around without being stopped by inmates who want to pet the dogs or who want to just say ‘hi’ to them, and I am constantly being approached by corrections officers and senior staff who ask me about the puppies’ training. One of our particularly sensitive pups goes to several different areas of the prison: the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old inmates play with her; domestic violence classes use her to get the women to open up and talk; and she even visits inmates who are about to go before the parole board, for it has been found that her presence has a calming effect on the women.