Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Animal-Human Bond: How Strong Is It? (Prison Dog Project)

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The Animal-Human Bond How Strong Is It?

“A prison inmate, a neglected shelter puppy and a disabled person � on the surface, the three just do not seem to have a lot in common. However, in prisons across the United States and other countries, kindness, hard work and the desire for a productive life are connecting them”

The Prison Dog programs are a good deal for the dogs, who are adopted from shelters where they would otherwise be killed. These dogs are given the ability to help others and in some cases, given a second chance at life. It is good for their disabled owners, who experience a new world of freedom with the dogs at their side. The programs can also change the lives of the inmates who are showing greater social interaction with fellow prisoners and staff and a sense of real responsibility from their participation.

In 181 Sister Pauline Quinn, a Dominican nun, began the Prison Pet Partnership Program (PPPP) at the Washington State Correctional Center for Women (WCCW). “Her belief was that the animal-human relationship could help with inmate rehabilitation. With that thought in mind, inmates at the WCCW began training special dogs that would assist disabled people”(

Since that time, the program has proven to be nothing less than amazing. More than 600 dogs have been placed with the disabled since the program began at the Washington prison and new programs have been spawned around the world (

Numerous states have seen the benefits of the program and have decided to put together their own. Presently, there are Prison Dog Programs in Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, New York, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Washington State. In addition, Canada, England, Scotland, Australia, and South Africa have also taken part (

I wanted to give something back and help people who are in institutions find meaning to their life through the dog, says Sister Pauline. It gives the inmates the opportunity to become ‘other’ centered while giving something back to society. People need to have purpose in their life and this gives them the chance to learn skills, to be loved unconditionally by the dog, and to give love to people who need a special dog to help them.

The programs allow the prison inmates to adopt dogs from the local animal shelters or humane societies and train them to assist the disabled, become guide dogs, and in some cases, save an unwanted dog from euthanasia.

The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) numbers from 17 shows that

• The number of dogs entering the shelters were ,,78

• 56% of dogs that enter animal shelters are euthanized.

• 5% of dogs that enter animal shelters are adopted.

“In 186, the Prison Pet Partnership Program out of the WCCW was one of the top ten finalists for Innovations in State and Local Government recognized by the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Business at Harvard University” (

The dogs spend a good deal of time with their trainers within the prison community. To the left are some of the women inmates training the dogs to be friendly with a cat. This will be useful when the dogs are released to a new home with “different” animals.

“General H. Norman Schwarzkopf came to the WCCW in 17 to host “What’s Right in America” for NBC. He felt that the Prison Pet Partnership Program exemplified how the prison system can aid in the rehabilitation of inmates while serving the community at large” (

The women work at a prison kennel in the mornings, feeding and grooming the dogs boarded there by private owners. “The boarding of the dogs, grooming fees, plus donations and grants, keep the nonprofit program running” (The Seattle Times).

The objectives of the program are

• To place 60 dogs with recipients annually, with at least 5% of them being Service/Seizure or Therapy animals.

• To establish a scholarship fund to assist released inmates from prison to continue their pet industry related education.

• To continue to build a Veterinary Assistance Fund, started by the Bosack Kruger Foundation in 15.

• To assure quality veterinary care for our dogs before they are placed in the community and to assist a number of low income recipients or our dogs when they are unable to pay their veterinary bills (

“The program is not for every inmate. Prisoners must first meet qualifications before being admitted in to the program Any major violation of prison rules results in automatic removal from the program. Once excluded, prisoners cannot rejoin. Any sign of mistreatment or neglect also results in expulsion” (

Some of the requirements are

• Anyone with a history of abuse toward children or animals are excluded automatically.

• Inmates must serve at least 1 year before they can be considered for the program. This is so prison authorities can review the inmates behavior while incarcerated.

• Candidates must have at least two years left to their sentence, so they can complete the program.

• Candidates must be free of major infractions against prison rules � such as fighting � for 1 year.

• Candidates must be free of minor infractions for 0 days. A minor infraction includes missing an appointment in the prison.

• Candidates must not have a history of drug abuse in the prison (

Inmates must take and pass a -month Pet Care Technician class, given by the American Boarding Kennels Association if they are accepted into the program. They learn skills such as the physiology of dogs, first aid for pets (including CPR), grooming, pet health and wellness maintenance, kennel care, as well as customer relation skills (

When they pass the course, inmates are assigned one or two dogs. The dogs live with the inmates in their cells. Beth Rivard, the programs coordinator explains that, “A cell usually holds four people. Instead, two inmates and two dogs, or two inmates and one dog, are housed together” (

“Only about twenty percent of the dogs have the temperament to complete the eight- month training”, said Executive Director Beth Rivard. The rest are adopted out in to the community as “paroled pets.” “It costs approximately $5,000 to train one service dog”, she said, “and the disabled recipients pay only a $5 application fee” (The Seattle Times).

This program teaches inmates how to become productive members of society and the results are amazing. The female prisoners involved in the 1 year PPPP have a re-offending rate of zero percent and one hundred and seventy dogs have been rescued from the pound, taken to prison, educated and placed as service dogs.

The Prison Pet Partnership (PPP) is out of the Perdy Correctional Center for Women in Washington D.C. This program has numerous benefits for the inmates including

• Lessons on care and responsibility for life

• Job skills

• Getting in touch with their feelings

• Having something to care for

• Getting the opportunity to feel better about themselves

• The ability to accomplish their goals (

This program matches the inmates with unwanted dogs from a shelter. They teach them to be dogs that are “adoptable and keepable.” This includes sit, stay, come, heel, off, as well as learning how to behave in crowds and in front of strangers and other animals. These dogs are not adoptable because of their demeanor (

Each cycle lasts about three months and the dogs are then placed in their new homes. The inmates feel that the dogs “help break barriers that exist between each other.” They tend to feel less defensive and more relaxed. “When a prisoner has a friendly dog by their side, people want to go up and greet them. The friendly dog then helps to break the tension” (

The women also train Service Dogs. Those dogs will go on to assist the physically disabled. They teach them to open and close doors and pick up dropped items when requested.

“I’ve learned responsibility,” said Jennifer Palmer, who is serving a sentence of three years and ten months. “I know now it depends on me to change my life. Doing this has given me self-esteem. This is something I can do” (The Seattle Times).

It is difficult for the women to let the dogs go to their new owners. The dogs are placed with these women twenty-four hours a day and they become attached very quickly. “This program allows the new owners to bring the dogs back for boarding if they go on vacation, and gives the inmates to opportunity to see the dogs for another time” (

In 10, another program joined the list, Friends for Folks at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center in Oklahoma. This program allows long-term inmates to train dogs from local shelters as companions for single elderly people or as service dogs for the disabled.

The Assessment and Reception Center is a medium security prison with approximately 800 prisoners. There are twenty inmates involved with the Friends for Folks program, and there is a large waiting list. Many inmates are involved because the prisoners are rotated through the program (

Normal training takes ten weeks however, for a donation of seventy-five dollars, inmates are willing to put the dogs through a new High Intensity Program (HIT). This obedience-training program allows for the potential new owners of the dog to have the training done in thirty days. The training is a full time job for four inmates who give the dogs constant care (Pet Gazette).

“To the left is Lexington Correctional Center, a facility that houses over 1,000 inmates in minimum, medium and maximum-security units. Unit , a medium unit, also houses very different inmates, ones with four legs” (Pet Gazette).

“The dogs get a second chance to live out their lives in a useful manner in a non-abusive environment. There is no cost to the recipients, and the dogs are delivered. For senior citizens, the dogs fill a void, helping them cope with loneliness and the need to show affection. For the inmates, its a chance to change their outlook on life” (Pet Gazette).

Project POOCH (Positive Opportunities-Obvious Change with Hounds) began in 1 at the Maclaren School, Oregon Youth Authority in Woodburn Oregon. This is a Juvenile Correctional Center for males. Juvenile offenders adopt dogs form two local animal shelters and give the dog’s obedience training with the help of their classroom teacher, who is also a dog trainer.

The student trainers work with their dogs each day, and apply “The principles of positive reinforcement and behavior modification.” As the trainers teach their dogs, they also learn about themselves. They acquire the following abilities

• to be responsible

• to persist when faced with setbacks

• to know they are needed

• to realize dogs dont care about excuses

• to be consistent and reliable

• to practice patience

• to know how it feels to make a difference (

Based on survey responses from adults’ staff at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, students who participated in Project Pooch showed marked behavior improvement in the areas of respect for authority, social interaction and leadership (

Program alumni interviewed reported that they “Felt they had changed and improved in the areas of honesty, empathy, nurturing, social growth, understanding, self-confidence and pride of accomplishment” (

“The relationships, emotional support and mutual trust established between the trainers and dogs are key to the success of the program” (

The students involved with Project POOCH have decreased numbers of office referrals and show improved self-esteem, patience, responsibility, and vocational skills (

Another program is Puppies Behind Bars (PBB), which began in 17 at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. Inmates in this facility raise guide dogs for the blind. This is the only Maximum Security Prison for women in New York.

PBB began with only five puppies and now there are five more facilities participating with over fifty puppies. Twenty-three of those puppies have become guide dogs (

Gloria Gilbert Stoga founded the program. She served on a commission to develop private sector employment for low-income residents for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani when she heard about a prison dog program in Ohio. I just thought it made a lot of sense to utilize people that had a lot of time on their hands to help blind people through these dogs, Ms. Stoga said (The New York Times).

In an interview with the USA Network Stoga said, “The primary objective of the PBB is to raise the most highly trained, healthy, happy-to-work guide dogs, and allow blind individuals to have a chance at independence.”

Willie, to the left, who has been blind for twelve years and received a dog from PBB says, “I know it’s not only helping myself, but it’s helping the ones training the dogs” (USA Network).

“Each dog comes to the correctional facility at two months old and becomes the sole responsibility of a carefully selected inmate. Participants live on special puppy-raising wards, where they care for their animals 4 hours per day - overseeing everything from house-training to toenail clipping - for a year and a half” (Good Housekeeping).

Because the puppies live in the cell with the inmates for sixteen months, they are taken to “puppy sitters” two to three times a months to get them exposed to outside influences. This is beneficial for the puppies for many reasons. The puppies will hear simple sounds that the prison environment does not provide, such as a doorbell ringing or a coffee grinder. It also exposes them to complex things for instance, riding in a car or walking down a crowded sidewalk (

Puppy raisers are required to sign a contract with PBB. It outlines the inmate’s responsibilities with the puppies and with the program. The contract clearly states that inmates will be asked to leave for any reason deemed appropriate by PBB (

Requirements for participation in the program include mandatory attendance at weekly puppy class and 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 (

“When you ask the inmates what they learned from PBB they will say ‘Somebody trusted me.’ It gives them hope because it makes them feel human again.” believes Ms. Stoga (USA Network).

Stoga said, Are we raising guide dogs? Yes. Is that the first and foremost thing we are doing? Yes. However, these are people who are being given an opportunity to learn important basic life lessons, and theyre learning via these dogs (

Chris Rogers says that, for the first years of his 17-year stretch in prison, he led a lonesome existence, spending most of his time on his own, reading. Then, after he begged and begged to get into the Puppies Behind Bars program, came Doris, a tiny Labrador retriever (

Prison went from being a dead space to a place that was alive, says Rogers, 6, who’s been on parole for six months. He began to make friends, and gained a sense of purpose. “Puppies Behind Bars has contributed enormously to my success outside of prison”, replies Rogers, who now has an apartment in upper Manhattan and a job as an assistant with the program (

The benefits from all of the programs affect the inmates, animals, staff, and the community that receives the trained animals.

Dogs benefit from these programs by often being saved from near death and given a second chance. The training and grooming they receive by the inmates allows the animals to be more presentable and desired by potential owners. The dogs that become assistants to the physically disabled, hearing impaired or senior citizens are a valuable contribution to the population.

In addition to saving the lives of dogs on death row at local shelters, the program also positively affects the lives of inmates, who learn valuable job skills they can use when they resume life outside prison walls. Prisoners work toward pet care, technician certification, or companion animal hygienist certifications. The inmate behavior and self-esteem improve. The programs teach discipline, cooperation, and respect for others.

The staff members who work with these programs see the difference in the inmates and the benefits to the animals. The staff believes that the dogs make the work environment less hectic and easier to manage. It relaxes the mood of the situation and promotes better communication with the inmates.

The community, especially those who are physically disabled, hearing impaired, or the elderly have been extremely pleased with the program results. They believe that not only are the dogs being trained to assist them, but also the inmates are using their time constructively. The society has shown to be eager to accept these dogs into their homes, and to correspond with their trainers.

There are ,0,1 inmates in the prison system (Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics), ,,78 unwanted dogs in shelters (NCPPSP), 100 million visually disabled Americans ( and 4.7 million people with long-lasting disabilities ( They will fight the battle for trust and companionship together, all come out winners.

American Humane Association. “Animal Shelter Euthanasia.” 00 http//

Clemence, Sara. “Puppies from Prison Succeed at a Dog’s Toughest Job.”

Columbia News Service, April , 00.

Cook, Rebecca. “”Dog Training Program Offers New Hope to Inmates.” The Seattle Times, June 11, 000.

Jones, Hugh. “Prison Dogs Hard Time, Soft Hearts.” OK Pet Gazette, 001.

Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. http//

National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. “The Shelter’s Statistics Survey.” 17. http//

O’Connor, James V. “Puppies Behind Bars.” The New York Times, August , 1.

“Puppies Behind Bars.” Movie Clip (http// USA Network.

Quinn, Pauline Sr. “Prison Dog Project.” http//

Renda, Kathleen. “A New Leash on Life.” Good Housekeeping, April 001.

United States Census Bureau. http//

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