When people follow their passion, good things happen. In the case of Gloria Gilbert Stoga, following her heart brought together inmates, puppies, and community members in need and the end result is changed lives. After reading an article about a veterinarian in Florida who recruited prison inmates to train seeing eye dogs, she was immediately inspired. She quit her job and aimed her sights on giving people in and out of prison a new lease on life. Puppies Behind Bars was born!
About Puppies Behind Bars
Puppies Behind Bars trains prison inmates to raise service dogs that will eventually graduate and serve wounded military veterans, first responders, or law enforcement as explosive detection canines. The training program for inmates is rigorous. There are lessons, exercises, hands-on work, quizzes, and tests over the course of 8 months. If they make it through the learning process they are able to start filling the role of puppy raiser.
Puppies move into the facility with their puppy raiser at the age of about 8 weeks and stay with them for 24 months. The puppies go home to volunteer fosters on weekends to gain exposure to a more typical household environment and routine. The pups and inmates are continually working together on the skills, commands, and cues they will need to perform seamlessly once the puppies are living with the handlers they will serve.
Once the dogs are ready, the handler recipients of the dogs spend a few weeks training alongside the inmates and the dogs so that the handlers can learn all they need to know for a successful partnership between handler and dog. At that point, the dog and handler graduate the program and go home together.
Immeasurably Positive for Everyone Involved
Every being who is involved in Puppies Behind Bars benefits from the organization. For the inmates, the opportunity to learn and apply the skills they acquire through Puppies Behind Bars is hugely beneficial to their well being and success both while serving time and after they are released. As Stoga put it on the Puppies Behind Bar’s website, the puppy raisers learn what it is like to contribute to society rather than take from it. This is invaluable to their successful transition back into civilian life.
For the handlers who receive service dogs from the program, it is not a stretch to say that the dogs have literally saved lives. In some cases, the dogs help change their handler’s inner dialogue from one of suicide ideation to love and hope. Whether they need emotional, physical, or practical support, the dogs allow their handlers to access life more like they did before their trauma or injury.
Puppies Behind Bars gives purpose to the lives of the puppy raisers, handlers, and dogs in the program, which raises us all up! You can follow the journey of Puppies Behind Bars’ participants on Instagram.
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