Puppies Being Raised in Prison For A Life Of Service

Can prison inmates be trusted to raise and train puppies, and prepare them for a life of service?  Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) is proving they can!  Puppies Behind Bars is a non-profit organization in the New York area that utilizes prison inmates to raise and train puppies as service dogs for wounded war veterans, and as explosive detection dogs for law enforcement.

Puppies raised in prison for a life of service

The staff and volunteers at PBB believe that dogs can change lives. They can change the lives of law enforcement agents whose job it is to search for hidden explosives, providing  them with a canine partner whose extraordinary sense of smell will help them keep the public safe.  They can change the lives of wounded war veterans whose transition back home has become both difficult and frightening.   They can change the lives of prison inmates, offering them an opportunity to give something to the community. 

This puppy is being groomed for a life of service
14 month old Max, one of the puppies in the PBB program

Puppies enter a prison when they are 8 weeks old and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for about 2 years.  Inmates accepted into the PBB program as puppy raisers are given rigorous training to become skilled dog handlers.   A large part of the puppies’ training includes the PBB Volunteer Program, which provides the puppies with the vital socialization skills they will need once they are placed as service dogs for a veteran or as explosive detection dogs for law enforcement. 

My friend Barbara Schwartz has been a PBB volunteer Puppy Sitter for over 10 years, providing much needed socialization for more than 90 dogs!  Barbara graciously agreed to let me interview her about her role as a Puppy Sitter.  We got together at her place for the interview, which was especially fun because her current PBB puppy, Max, was there to join us!

Volunteering as a Puppy Raiser for service dogs
Barbara with Max during Max's weekend visit with her
Dogs Luv Us And We Luv them:
Barbara, what first drew you to  the Puppies Behind Bars organization and why did you choose to volunteer there?

Barbara:  Their program fit with my schedule and lifestyle, and I liked the work they were doing.  I also liked the idea that it was a way for prison inmates to gain responsibility and confidence, and give something back.  I wanted to do some good and I wanted to have a puppy on the weekends!  I'm not able to have a dog of my own right now.

Dogs Luv Us And We Luv them:
What is your role as a volunteer and how does it help the dogs and PBB?

Barbara: My role as a Volunteer Puppy Sitter is socialization of the pups.  One weekend a month I bring a puppy home with me and work on socialization skills.  If the pups stayed in the [prison] facilities they would be very well behaved and very well loved, but they wouldn't be in a position where they would do well in the outside world.  From the time I pick up a puppy from the prison they are being exposed to things outside the prison environment; car rides, new people and places, grass, tile, carpeting, ringing telephones and doorbells, airplanes flying overhead, public places such as malls and eating establishments and more.

Puppies are being trained as service dogs by prison inmates
Sleeping pups take a break from training!

Dogs Luv Us And We Luv them:
Wow! I didn't realize how many things the pups need to become familiar with in order to prepare for life outside the prison, and how important it will be in preparing the pup to live in a home as a working dog.  What is a typical weekend like for you as a volunteer puppy sitter?

Barbara:  I go to the prison on Saturday morning and sign in.  The inmate who is raising the puppy that I'm going to take home for the weekend brings the pup to me.  She also provides a letter with information about the pup, and may include recommendations on what the puppy needs to work on such as mouthing or scavenging around for food.  I take the pup home and spend some 1 on 1 time together, then we go for a short walk.  I take the puppies to visit my mom (she loves dogs!), and introduce them to some of my friends and family.  I continue to socialize them, introducing them to different people, places, and noises until I have to bring the puppy back to the prison on Sunday. 

Watch this video to see how one of PBB's service dogs changed the life of an Iraq war Veteran: Video source: YouTube

Dogs Luv Us And We Luv them:What do you like most about being a PBB volunteer, and what do you find most challenging?

Barbara: The thing I like the most is being able to help so many people; veterans, law enforcement and prison inmates.  And.... I get to have puppies!  The biggest challenge is when a pup is difficult; not listening, super high energy, not staying off furniture, etc.  It's rare, but sometimes I get a puppy that is more difficult to work with.  When that happens, I've learned to keep them on leash while in the house to prevent them from displaying behavior that is not acceptable.  You have to be really patient and calm.

Bunch of sleeping pups, some of which will become service dogs
A bundle of puppies to be expertly trained for a life of service
Dogs Luv Us And We Luv them:
Tell me about the dogs; how they are selected and what happens if they don't successfully complete the program.

Barbara: PBB utilizes Labrador  Retrievers and Golden Retrievers obtained from high quality breeders.  Pups that don't make it through the program successfully, or who are determined not suitable for placement with a Veteran or as an Explosive Device Detection Canine, are released for adoption [there is an application process and adoption fee of approximately $3,000, but the fee can vary]

Dogs Luv Us And We Luv them:
Barbara, thanks so much for providing us with a glimpse into the Puppies Behind Bars program and what it’s like to be a PBB volunteer Puppy Sitter!  Thanks to you too, Max, it was a pleasure meeting you and playing fetch together!
I hope you enjoyed my interview with Barbara. You can learn more about Puppies Behind Bars and the great work they are doing, on their web site.

Congratulations! to Puppies Behind Bars for earning its seventh consecutive 4-star rating (4 out of a possible 4 stars) from Charity Navigator, America's premier independent charity evaluator!  Puppies Behind Bars is funded entirely by private contributions

Two pooped puppies!
Two pooped pups taking a break!


Unknown said...

This was such a great post!!! Well done!
ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them said...

Thanks Jenna! Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by!

The Daily Pip said...

I so love programs like this! I do believe dogs can change lives and love that this program helps both the inmates as well as veterans struggling to return to regular life. Amazing all the way around!

Andy said...

The world is a better place because of people like Barbara.

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