Sunday, January 9, 2011

Prison Pet Partnership Program

Rewarding for all parties involved. . .

Guest Blogger, Gerald Arnolds is a writer in Seattle, Washington. .

The Prison Pet Partnership Program is a nonprofit organization and program operating from the grounds of the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington. The program seeks to achieve two major goals, as per its mission statement: to rescue and train homeless animals into service dogs, which then become companions for disabled individuals who need them, and to give female inmates job training opportunities which will give them the experience they need to enter the boarding, grooming, and pet care industries after being released from prison.

To do this, the program works to find potential service dogs through local shelters, then works to find matches with disabled individuals. Dogs who cannot do service work find homes and become therapy animals, and dogs who show a talent for it can be come law enforcement animals working in drug detection and other fields. Dogs spend their time in the program living closely with the inmates who provide training, care and shelter, and inmates can finish the program as certified Pet Care Technicians over the minimum two-year period.

At its core, what makes the Prison Pet Partnership Program work is the mutually beneficial relationship between animals, inmates and the dogs' long-term recipients. The process of producing a service dog is an intense, time consuming and expensive one: the average cost of training is $10,000 for each dong, spent over the course of eight months, and the success rate is not high; only one out of every 15-20 dogs chosen ultimately proves capable of functioning as a service dog (the other animals then become pets).

By creating an outlet for this work for individuals who otherwise would have greatly diminished opportunities as a consequence of their incarceration, the program helps to rehabilitate both female inmates and dogs who would have been at the mercy of the shelter system (and likely at risk of being put down unless adopted by an individual). It also helps to make the dogs more available to the people who need them, who may otherwise be unable to find a service animal capable of completing the tasks they require in order to maintain independence.

The program was founded in 1981 by Sister Pauline and former Washington State University veterinary chair, Dr. Leo Bustad, who sought to use human-animal interaction as an aspect of the rehabilitation process for inmates. The organization is funded partially through the Department of Corrections, but receives most of its funding from local foundations, animal welfare groups, and donors.

The program also runs a boarding and grooming service for the surrounding area, which helps to produce money for support. Volunteers work with the animals on a regular basis to get them accustomed to accompanying the people they will go on to serve and training dogs to move in all sorts of areas that they wouldn't normally be required to move through. The Prison Pet Partnership Program is a program doing something right, helping one of America's most stigmatized populations do good in what can be an extremely difficult situation to recover from.

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