Saturday, April 18, 2009

Puppies Behind Bars: It’s Win, Win, Win

Meet Bear. He’s over there on the right -- a year-old, black Labrador retreiver.

Most of the time he lives in a New York metropolitan area prison where he’s being raised and trained by an inmate to be a service dog for the disabled or an explosives detection canine for law enforcement. On the weekends, he comes to the city so he can get used to such things as noise, traffic and pooping on concrete.

This weekend, my friend Amy is hosting Bear’s overnight stay and reinforcing the training he’s receiving back home in prison. She’s a specially-trained volunteer with Puppies Behind Bars, an innovative partnership that pairs puppies with prisoners for the good of all involved.

Indeed, it is a win, win, win scenario.

The prisoners, some of whom have committed murder, are entrusted with young, helpless pups and, in addition to daily care, feeding and grooming, are responsible for conducting rigorous training that one day will enrich, and perhaps even save lives. In exchange, prisoners receive untold affection, companionship and the satisfaction of bettering themselves and our world.

The puppies, a mere eight-weeks old when their training begins, also are entrusted with fragile lives—those severely lacking in self-esteem, confidence and much success of any kind. In exchange for their affection, companionship and obedience, the pups enhance the lives of prisoners and, eventually, the disabled in countless ways.

The volunteers--dog lovers all--are, like the prisoners, entrusted with young lives and the responsibility for ensuring continuous, consistent and careful training. In exchange, the volunteers are generously compensated with canine currency -- deep and unconditional affection, constant companionship and, even if for just a brief time, a small, but critical role in improving our world for all.