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JoAnna Lou
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Homeless Pups Find Help Behind Bars
Paws on Parole inmates and shelter dogs help each other out.
A Paws on Parole graduate with his handler.

Prison inmates and shelter dogs both live behind bars in what is often a harsh and solitary environment. Now programs around the country are bringing the two together to foster responsibility and adoptability. 

Alachua County Animal Services’ Hilary Hynes was approached by the Florida Department of Corrections to start a prison dog program after hearing about the benefits of similar efforts in other areas. Three months ago Paws on Parole was born, matching inmates from the Gainesville CI Work Camp with dogs from the local animal shelter. The teams are supervised by dog trainers who teach the participants how to train their pups to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. 

The dogs aren’t the only ones benefiting from Paws on Parole’s positive reinforcement. Similar programs have found that working with animals has led to a decrease in discipline problems. Hynes reports that Paws on Parole has changed the entire atmosphere of the work camp. “The confidence of the handlers is fantastic,” she says. “They’re eager to show off what they’ve taught their dogs and have asked for additional related reading material.”

I’m always amazed by the power of animals to inspire change and compassion. For inmates who often feel ostracized from the rest of society, programs such as Paws on Parole showcase the canine ability to love unconditionally. And what a great opportunity for the inmates to return that gratitude by helping the dogs.

If you’re in the North Central Florida area and are interested in adopting a Paws on Parole graduate, contact Hilary Hynes at Alachua County Animal Services, 352-264-6881. Visit this web site to locate a prison pups program near you.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Hilary Hynes.

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Submitted by Lisa Wogan | May 27 2009 |

Last year, I had the good fortune to witness the benefits of the Prison Pet Partnership Program (http://thebark.com/content/prison-pups), wherein inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women near Gig Harbor help transform shelter and rescue dogs into service dogs. It's a pretty time and effort intensive program but with rewards for people and dogs all up and down the line. I think this Florida program sounds like a keeper too--with the more doable goal of socializing and helping dogs find forever homes.

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