Prisoners and Puppies: Working Together, Healing and Finding Home
The Pups on Parole prison program began when the Heaven Can Wait Animal Society in Las Vegas, NV realized the dogs they rescued needed a facility where they were given time to heal and learn to trust people after being abandoned, abused and neglected. A prison may not seem like the best place to start life over, but it was the perfect solution for the dogs.
With training from Cesar Milan, “The Dog Whisperer” and a partnership with the women’s correctional facility, Pups on Parole was born September 2003.
The dogs live in one of the 20 housing units, called pods, at the prison along with their specially chosen inmate handlers. The pod is brimming with canines in various stages of rehabilitation at all times. Each handler is assigned a dog who lives with her 24 hours a day. It is her job to teach the dog how to live one day with a family of their own.
The women nurture, train, feed and love these canines until the day comes when they are ready to be adopted. Then they lovingly say goodbye and welcome another newly rescued pup into their lives.
Pups on Parole has been a turning point for many of the handlers as well as the dogs. Former inmates have become professional dog trainers, groomers and doggie day care workers and none have ever returned to prison.
To commemorate the 9th anniversary of the program, the following letter was written by two of the Heaven Can Wait dog coordinators that have been with the program since it started.
It’s hard to believe, but we are beginning our 9th year of Pups on Parole! When we began, we had seven dogs in the prison and we just prayed that we could get them trained and adopted! Well, we have come a long way — we now have upwards of 30 dogs in the program at any time, and have terrific handlers who prepare these pups for their new homes. To date, we have adopted more than 1,600 dogs into wonderful homes, with several families adopting a second and even third time.
People are always surprised that our dogs actually do live in the women’s correctional facility. They live in one of the pod areas and do live in the rooms with their handlers. When the dogs first come in, they are introduced to the residents as well as their fellow pups. The women work very hard for, and with, the dogs to prepare them for their new forever home!
We have seen dogs who were so frightened that they had to be carried into the facility, and who walked out proudly with head and tail held high to go to their new home. Each day, the dogs are socialized, trained, have play time and are loved in preparation for their imminent adoption. Many dogs come to us with no known history and leave with a full and detailed resume, which is prepared by those who live with them and know them best!
This program began with the intention to rescue and rehabilitate dogs, but we now have found that it is a life changing venture for any and all involved, that is, the dogs, their handlers, their new family members and us.
Through the years, we have had and continue to have assistance and encouragement from many, including the likes of Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer. We feel this program is like a perfect circle and can only be completed when all parts are in place – that is, the dogs come to us, they are trained and learn to love and trust and are finally adopted into wonderful and loving homes. We all play an important role, and hope that we can continue with this wonderful program.
-Rachel Vosko and Mary Ellen Sachs
Following is a poem that was written by a former handler in the program.
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.
Little one… so full of fear
no one’s gonna hurt you here.
Photo Credit: HeavenCanWaitAnimalSociety