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Puppies Behind Bars

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Puppies Behind Bars

Set in the lush New York City suburb of Westchester County, the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility–New York State’s largest women’s prison and its only maximum-security prison for women’has housed many infamous prisoners. But there is a more positive and inspiring aspect to the Bedford Hills prison that most people are unaware of: Puppies Behind Bars (PBB), an extraordinary program that allows inmates–many of them serving long prison sentences for violent crimes–a chance to turn selected puppies into highly trained service dogs for the disabled, or explosive-detection canines for law enforcement. The program–which started at Bedford in 1997 with five puppies–now operates at six correctional facilities in the tri-state (NY, NJ, CT) area and boasts 377 canine graduates.

Puppies and Inmates, In it Together
Puppies chosen for the program live in the cells with their primary caregivers, “puppy raisers,” and attend classes administered by PBB. They also spend two or three weekends a month in the homes of “puppy sitters,” so they can be exposed to things they won’t experience in prison, such as the sound of a doorbell or a coffee grinder, or learning how to safely ride in a car or walk down a crowded sidewalk.

Inmates who wish to become puppy raisers must sign a contract with PBB outlining their responsibilities and providing that any inmate may be asked to leave for any reason deemed appropriate by PBB. Requirements for participation in the program are strict, and include mandatory attendance at weekly puppy class as well as successful completion of reading assignments, homework, and exams. The puppy raiser must always put the needs of the puppy before his or her own, must be able to work effectively as a member of a team, and must be able to give and receive criticism in a constructive manner.

The puppies live in the prison for sixteen months, after which they are tested to determine their suitability for training as service dogs for the disabled or explosive-detection dogs for law enforcement. The dogs judged to be suitable are returned to the schools where they continue their formal training. Those who don’t continue on the working-dog track are donated by PBB to families with blind children. In either case, these dogs spend their lives as companions to people who need them.

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At DivineCaroline.com, women come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability, and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

159 comments

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10:00PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

I represent people accused of and convicted of crimes. I'm very pleased when they are able to use inmate labor - it saves taxpayer money, true, but it gives the inmate something constructive to do and boosts morale greatly. Wonderful!

5:14PM PST on Jan 25, 2011

thanks for posting this story.

7:10PM PDT on Oct 26, 2010

This is a great concept.
There are guidelines for both the inmate and the dog that have been assigned to.
The bond and good results happen to both of them.
The end result is also amazing for all parties involved.
Hope more governed programs start in more prisons

5:13AM PDT on Jul 1, 2010

i love this idea

2:11AM PDT on Jun 26, 2010

oh, i was picturing a bulldog as a barkeeper...

4:11PM PDT on Jun 12, 2010

I think a dog would rather work than stay home alone all day. Just a thought.

7:46PM PDT on Jun 11, 2010

It's a great program benefitting both the inmates and the dogs.

2:46PM PDT on May 23, 2010

nice idea

12:41AM PDT on May 9, 2010

Noted and sign !

5:16AM PDT on May 1, 2010

Great idea - thanks for sharing this story.

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