I had seen the impact on the inmates involved in the PUPS on parole program at the Nevada State Prison and later when it was transferred to Warm Springs Correctional Center when the old prison closed in 2012. Having an inmate introduce me to the dog they were training was the highlight of my week when I had to help that prison yard when they had a physician shortage. It was wonderful to see the inmates concerned about something other then themselves and proud of helping a dog the Nevada Humane Society thought was nonadoptable. Many of the dogs were pit bulls or pit mixes and the inmates were trained to help them with their behavioral issues. In essence the dogs were given a second chance and the inmates were exposed to unconditional love , learned patience, responsibility, the value of positive reinforcement, service and a potentially marketable skill.
The dog program not only helped the dogs and the inmates, it helped with staff morale and decreased tension on the yard. What I found fascinating was the history behind the first dog training program for prison rehabilitation in the United States. It occurred in 1981 in a correctional system in Washington state and the credit for it is given to Sister Pauline Quinn. Her life story is a testament to the human spirit and the healing that can occur under the right circumstances. She was someone who survived an abusive home, ran away at 13 and because of her experiences and acting out was placed in adult psychiatric wards. It was such a horrible experience that she prayed to God that if he would help her get out and change her life she would dedicate her life to help others. She did that in many ways, one of which was helping start the Prison Pet Partnership Program which trained dogs to help the handicapped.
The reason she helped start that program was because of what she experienced when she was released from the psychiatric facility. She went back to the streets and found a stray German shepherd named Joni which she cared for and helped her heal. Quinn told the Los Angeles Times that dogs “love us unconditionally, and people need that-especially people who are wounded, they need to feel loved. So the dog is very much a healing tool.” As a healer I couldn’t agree more.