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People & Puppies Behind Bars

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The Times’s City Section this week has a feature on a program called Puppies Behind Bars, which places puppies with incarcerated men and women in NY state prisons. The “puppy raisers” train the dogs how to be explosive detection canines, seeing eye dogs for the blind, and therapy dogs for people with physical or mental disabilities (full disclosure: my family is very involved with PBB and has been since it was founded).

While I disagree with the initial spin that the organization’s founder gives (people who are incarcerated have an “obligation to give back,” she says), I’d agree that the organization has the double benefit of training dogs for people whose lives will be greatly enriched by them and allowing people who are in the most dehumanizing place imaginable regain a sense of their humanity and compassion — effects that are clear in this video, which accompanies the article.

One particularly moving story (in the video) is of Pax, a dog who was trained by a woman in Bedford Hills, a maximum security prison, and who has gone on to become a service dog for an Iraq vet with PTSD. Like many of the women incarcerated in America, Pax’s puppy raiser was convicted of killing her abusive husband. She herself suffers from PTSD. And here she is, finding some healing in training the dog that will provide freedom to someone else.

Or, put differently by Jules Flynn, another incarcerated puppy raiser, “We give people who receive these dogs their freedom, and that is something that was taken away from us.”

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