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How pets are rehabilitating prison inmates

Virginia Chavez is a Phoenix-based freelance writer covering pets and lifestyle in the Southwest. In addition to regular contributions both online and in-print, Virginia locally owns and operates two pet care and supply businesses. For t...

Pets behind bars

Looking for unconditional love? Check your nearest correctional facility. The newest inmates boast the sought after qualities of loyal life partners — selfless and innocent with four sturdy paws on the ground.
Prisoner with rehab dog

An increasing number of jailhouses are bringing pets and prisoners together for the greater good. If the idea of Spot spending time in the slammer seems like cruel and unusual punishment, read on to see how prison pet programs help make the world a better place.

Who is doing the rescuing?

Hard to believe a convicted murderer and an innocent animal have anything in common but for the thousands of shelter animals on "death row," these homeless pets have met their match in prisoners with similar fates. Untrainable, unlovable and just plain bad — words used to classify the masses of homeless pets who end up behind bars in cages each year. Ironically, the same can be said for the masses of prisoners who have earned permanent residence in the big house. Perhaps the largest difference between the two comes down to a person's ability to make decision and a pet's inability to determine its own life choices. At the end of the program, inmates and pets working together means everyone gets a well-deserved second chance.

How it works

A select number of inmates are chosen to dedicate their time solely to the training and rehabilitation of these "non-adoptable" animals. Each inmate is 100% responsible for the caring, feeding, training and socializing their assigned pet. Training can include potty training and basic obedience commands such as sit, come, lay down and speak. The dogs learn to trust humans and become socialized enough to be considered adoptable. At the end of the program, each pet is relocated to a forever home.

To the average pet lover, this sounds like a simple task but keep in mind these are no ordinary pet parents. These are convicted killers, rapists and sex offenders with sordid pasts and many with anger problems (among other issues). Why would it ever be a good idea to hand over a selfless animal to an anger-crazed felon? The amazing power of humans and animals comes together for the greater good. Through these programs, inmates learn all about compassion and how rewarding it can be to love and care for another being. They experience unconditional love for the first time — that for many is a reward in itself. Many inmates find themselves capable of acquiring skills in pet-related fields that can later assist them in getting re-acquainted to a world without bars.

Perfection by selection

While the rest of us couldn't tell the difference between one prisoner and the next, not all convicts are created equal. Prison pet programs work because of the selective process to determine which inmate receives a pet. Each prospect is chosen based on their behavior while serving their time and must have expressed an interest in the program. Pets selected for the program are matched based on their temperament and personality. From there, inmates create daily schedules that implement necessary amounts of playtime and training. Each day is closely monitored to ensure progress for both the pet and the inmate.

Watch: Paws in prison

Paws in Prison is a program in Lockhart, Texas, that allows female inmates to train and adopt out dogs to the community.

More on pets

How to foster animals without becoming a hoarder
What you need to know about pet adoption
Top 5 reasons to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or rescue group

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