(N.Morgan) It is a widely known fact that animals can have a positive effect in reducing stress levels and aiding in the treatment of those suffering from Anxiety disorders, Autism, and depression.
Studies from Harvard University going back to the early 1980s support the idea that dogs have enormous health benefits for people, both mentally and physically. Pets have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve recovery from heart disease, and also improve people’s psychological well-being and self-esteem.
Add to that the positive effect of therapy dogs, which have long provided assistance to humans in the outside world by offering a calming presence and a personal support guide. The latest evidence is for children with autism, who have been found to greatly benefit from assistance dogs.
To support the every growing need for a great animals, there have been programs springing up around the world which take the positive effect of having animals present and pair inmates up with dogs they can care for and teach. The overall results have been astounding.
Another benefit which has resulted from these prison training projects has been that the dogs have also helped to diffuse tense situations in what is such a highly charged environment.
One of these programs is Prison Puppies, which pairs Future Leader Dogs with model prisoners who have demonstrated they can be trusted to provide 24/7 care to a special puppy for one year.
Prison-raised dogs are more likely to successfully become a Leader Dog than those raised in a home setting, because the inmates have more time to dedicate to the rigorous training program than the home foster situation can often offer .
Prison Puppies places about 100 puppies per year with inmates. The inmates who are raising a puppy tend to have a greatly reduced rate of recidivism. Many express pride and gratitude for the chance to give something back to society. If you are interested in supporting te Prison Puppies program, go to LeaderDog.org.
Other wonderful programs also offer training for shelter pets, like Canine CellMates in Atlanta, which pairs shelter dogs with inmates for social training and bonding while the dogs await adoption.
Another program in Lee County, Floria, takes untrained dogs and places them in the ‘big house’, so to speak.
The “Second Chance” program has been florishing in the Lee County Jail since 2003. It provides a handful of inmates, charged with non-violent crimes, the opportunity to train dogs in hopes of finding them a forever home.
The dogs are brought in from Gulf Coast Humane Society and Lee County Animal Services.
Typically, the dogs are strays or owner surrenders.
The inmate is responsible for potty training the dog, and teaching it how to obey basic commands.
Deputies say the program benefits more than just the dog because it also helps the inmate.
Deputy Scott Dunn said he sees how the dogs positively impact the inmates. He said that over time, the inmate becomes affectionate, patient and feels responsible for the dog in their care.
“You could see his whole demeanor changed,” said Deputy Dunn.
Bryant Bianchin has been in jail for 5 months after he was caught selling cocaine. Shortly after his arrest, he qualified to take part in the Second Chance program. Since then, he has trained three dogs.
“It’s a good feeling because we do negative things to get in here, so it’s a positive thing that makes you feel good inside” said Bianchin.
For 10 weeks, the dog never leaves his appointed inmate. A dog crate is even set beside the inmate’s bed.
“I kind of look at the dogs like I look at myself” said Bianchin. “They have behavioral problems like us. It’s interesting to see how we can try to correct them and they can be corrected, and hopefully we can be corrected too.”
After going through the program, deputies said few of the participating inmates ever return to jail.
Deputy Dunn said he enjoys seeing the transformation in both the inmate and the dog.
“Someone that maybe had a bit of an attitude or had maybe some kind of problem where he needed to have anger management, they learn how to deal with that while they’re here with the dogs” he said.
Bianchin said the program gives him hope for his future outside of jail.
“Maybe now I could go get a job training dogs or working at a vet,” said Bianchin.
Before taking part in the program, Bianchin had no experience training a dog. Now, he’s training his fourth dog, Alice. He said this has changed his outlook on life.
“Even though I messed up, I’m seeing the dogs are messing up, and so I have a chance. I’m not going to give up on myself,” said Bianchin.
The magic of a bond between animals and human is one which can rarely be matched, and it is that bond which has helped many inmates come out of their shells. Some of the inmates are training dogs to guide the blind, and in doing so, see that they are helping to give that blind person more freedom and a better quality of life.
The inmates and disabled have one very important thing in common. Both have had their freedom curtailedi, and it is these remarkable dogs who are setting them both free in a different ways.
South Boise Women’s Correctional Center has started a program for the fostering of shelter cats by the inmates.
According to staff, when they now see inmate Hope Reynoso these days, they often tell her how good it is to see her smile. When she hears them say this, she’s reminded of a time not too long ago when she first arrived at the correctional center and the smiles did not come easy.
“I was missing my kids and down on myself for making mistakes,” recalls Hope, who struggles with bipolar disorder. “I wouldn’t let anyone in.”
That was before Hope got a few new roommates who had the ability to make her feel safe enough to let her guard down, while renewing her sense of confidence and restoring her hope for the future.
These roommates did something others had not been able to do — because they just happened to be cats!
Hope is one of many inmates at the facility who takes part in the Women Inmate Social Kitty Retreat (WISKR) program, in which inmates become foster mothers to cats and kittens in need from the Idaho Humane Society (IHS).
The program is supported by a grant from Best Friends through the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets (NMHP) Network, which offers help and support to partner shelters so they can save more of the pets entering their doors.
As participants in the WISKR program, inmates care for cats and kittens who need special attention before they can be adopted. This includes cats with upper respiratory infections, those who need to lose or gain weight, senior cats, mother cats and their babies, kittens who need bottle feeding and kittens who are still too little to be spayed or neutered.
The WISKR program helps IHS, the largest shelter in Idaho, by providing much needed cat fostering services. It also helps rehabilitate and socialize the cats and kittens to help them get adopted. And it benefits the inmates quite a bit, too.
“Since the program began, we have seen a significant reduction in visits to the medical unit for anxiety and depression,” said Jennifer Ruff, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation specialist who works daily with inmates in the WISKR program. “You have to be doing good to take part in the program, and so it encourages inmates to be their best, and to show us that they take the responsibility very seriously.”
The cats are giving the inmates a second chance too. Through living with and caring for the cats, the inmates get their confidence back and begin to blossom with the thought of a future with wider possibilities.
There are no limits to where a daily difference is being made. In a small Louisianna town, a group of prison inmates is caring for the pets which arrive to the shelter built right on the Dixon Correctional Institute campus. This special shelter came about after a grant from the Humane Society of the United States.
Here are links to programs if you are interested in a pet or a helper dog, consider using these programs.
Here in the United States
Cat program in the South Bosie Women’s Correctional Center — http://bestfriends.org/stories-blog-videos/latest-news/innovative-prison-program-gives-cats-and-inmates-bright-future