From a person’s point of view being sent to prison is one of the worst things that could happen, but for dogs like Cody who are rescued by the Heaven Can Wait Sanctuary in Nevada and sent to their Pups on Parole program, it is the beginning of a second chance.
I am sure you’ve heard about programs like Pups on Parole, where homeless dogs are sent to live with prison inmates until they are ready to be adopted into families, but have you ever wondered how they work and how they affect the lives of the inmates? Here is an inside look at Pups on Parole.
A typical dog coming into the program has been traumatized, neglected or abused. Cody was the perfect candidate. The Shepherd/Collie mix was found by a dog hoarder when he was a puppy. He had been “dumped” in the Las Vegas desert. The hoarder wanted to keep Cody safe from his other dogs so he put him in a small pen. Cody spent the first year of his life in that pen, completely isolated. When he was rescued he didn’t have any of the skills to live with a human family; he was terrified of people, he had never lived indoors and he had no idea how to be a pet. So he went to live with the prisoners.
Pups on Parole is run at the two prisons for women in Southern Nevada. The main goal of the program is to give frightened dogs like Cody a chance to heal and learn to trust humans while also teaching them the skills needed to live with a family of their own someday.
The inmates apply for the job of “foster parent and handler” with HCWS and are evaluated by both the rescue group and the Prison Psychologist. For a variety of reasons, not every inmate interested in the program is approved.
Then HCWS picks a dog to live with a handler in her prison cell or dormitory room.
Twice a week volunteers from HCWS hold group training sessions with the women and the dogs. They review basic obedience commands, leash walking, encourage playtime with the other dogs and curb unwanted behaviors.
In the “off hours,” the women work to build the confidence of the dogs with games of fetch or teach them about being touched through grooming and help them learn what a “potty break” is all about. They also report on signs of illness and personality issues. Once a day the pups are allowed into the prison yard where they play and romp for a full hour. And more than any other quality, the inmates teach the pups what it is like to be loved by a human.
Those are the expectations written in the guidebook about Pups on Parole, but since it started, the program has been full of surprises.
First, it was exciting to see how well dogs like Cody came out of their shells and blossomed into regular, playful pups. It was also thrilling to see how eager they were to learn for their handlers. And as each dog gained confidence, HCWS volunteers also saw a new self-assurance in the inmate handlers, as well.
The women enjoyed their new responsibilities and the decisions they had to make for the pups in their charge. They liked when the rescue group asked for their opinion and little by little the inmates became “experts” in the process of rehabilitating dogs.
This has led many of the women to jobs working with animals after they have left prison. After all, what doggie daycare or veterinary clinic wouldn’t want to have a person on their staff who could handle a fearful pooch or a rambunctious young pup? One young woman was hired on the spot, when she stopped a dog fight during her interview at a daycare for pets.
Another surprising outcome has been the devotion the women have shown to the dogs. They open their rooms and their lives to the them, all while knowing that the goal is for them to be adopted to a new family. They endure canines that chew and rip their belongings and puppies that “get sick” in their rooms because they have sampled something tempting.
And every weekend they load up their “little ones” into a van so they can be taken to the adoption center. They say goodbye to the dogs they have raised, knowing that they may never see that pup again if he/she is adopted that day.
One inmate explained it this way, “We are three teams working together: The dogs, the handlers and the HCWS volunteers. It is a life-changing and heart-opening experience for all of us.”
When Cody was adopted, into my family, he came with a crocheted “ladybug” pillow that his handler made for him. He slept with it every night while he was at the prison and my family keeps it in a place where he can grab it if he needs it.
The following is a poem written by one of the inmates in honor of the Pups on Parole:
Little One…so full of fear
No one’s gonna hurt you here.
Soon; you’ll see, how it feels to trust
‘Cuz you’ve been rescued, just like us.
We promise that it’s not too late
Because we all know, that heaven can wait.
Forget the broken road you’ve traveled on
For yesterday has come and gone.
That’s a lesson we must all learn
And now, Little One… it is your turn.
Come with us, walk by our side
Hold your tail up high with pride.
And in the end, when we’re all through
There’ll be a family just waiting for you.
Because, Little One… so full of fear
No one’s gonna hurt you here.