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In 1981, Sister Pauline Quinn began the first dog training program for prison rehabilitation, Pathways to Hope. Quinn told the Los Angeles Times that dogs “love us unconditionally, and people need that — especially people who are wounded, they need to feel loved. At the Lexington Correctional Center south of Oklahoma City, inmates provide obedience training for dogs that need extra attention. With dog training programs, a common scenario is that one dog is able, in a way, to rescue two people.
Grady Perry, a program leader at an Alabama prison, told The New York Times that the dog training unit’s incident rate is “almost nonexistent” and added that the “dog program just kind of calms everyone down.” These types of reports are common and are in part responsible for the rapid growth of prison dog training programs across the globe.
Inmates not only gain marketable skills by participating in dog training programs while in prison, but the programs encourage them to make use of these skills.
Only four of 35 inmates who completed one Georgia dog training program and were released have returned; without the program, coordinator Robert Brooks estimates the number would have been about 17. According to the Massachusetts Department of Correction, the savings gained by dog training programs justify the lack of systematic evidence for the programs’ benefits. People in homes who train dogs for the Leader Dogs for the Blind program in Michigan have a 40 percent success rate.


A New York program, Puppies Behind Bars, has been more successful than traditional training. She went on to help start other dog training programs across the United States, providing opportunities for inmates. When she was released, Quinn lived on the streets and found a stray dog that she took care of, a German shepherd named Joni.
So the dog is very much a healing tool.” Joni helped Quinn heal and eventually start the first prison dog training program. Other training programs can prepare dogs to help people with physical or mental disabilities, to sniff out narcotics in airports or other public areas, or to track down wildlife threats at national parks. Inmates stay with abandoned, abused and neglected dogs, caring for them and teaching them skills the dogs will use, such as ones that can help people who use wheelchairs. For Robert Butterfield, serving 13 years for robbery and stealing drugs, training a stray 60-pound black-and-white pointer mix named Mickey helped him overcome shyness around other inmates. However, Leader Dogs for the Blind, which pairs future service dogs with inmates, has a recidivism rate of just 11 to 13 percent. Not only is the cost for dog training much less in prisons than typical dog training programs, but prison programs are more effective due to the additional time inmates spend with dogs.


The program had an 87 percent success rate, compared to 50 percent for dogs trained by volunteers in the public.
The Humane Society of the United States says that 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters each year. As awareness of the programs increases, more inmates could gain a chance to train, save and bond with dogs that can, in turn, enhance inmates’ lives.
Some inmates receive canine therapy, where they can talk with a psychologist while a dog is by their side. USA TODAY says that inmate Teddy Teshone has learned discipline through an Atlanta prison dog training program. Some programs specifically target at-risk dogs that struggle to get adopted — or dogs that may never be considered for adoption.
Butterfield’s training of Mickey resulted in the family of 9-year-old Celia Dutton adopting him.



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