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.
Photo by Hilary Hynes.