Prisoners and abused dogs might have more to offer each other than you’d think. Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been in the news for a lot of bad things, but few people ever discuss perhaps the one good thing he accomplished – the implementation of a program that has been instrumental in rehabilitating abused animals and returning them to no-kill shelters for adoption.
The program, Maricopa Animal Safe Hospice (MASH), uses prisoners to care for the dogs and cats and also serves as a training program in basic animal husbandry for the prisoners.
Sister Pauline Quinn is credited with introducing the concept in 1981 when she started a program in Washington state to train unwanted dogs for assignment to help disabled persons.
Project Good Dog is the program through which the Documentary “Dogs On The Inside” took place. But since the filming and release of the documentary, more programs have been developed around the country.
With shelters full to the brim, stray dogs are commonly euthanized. Through these programs, abused and abandoned dogs are taken to minimum security prisons where they are placed with low risk inmates as foster parents. The concept of these programs is allowing two disadvantaged lives to rehabilitate each other.
The US recidivism rate is notoriously high. But a program called New Leash On Life USA in Philadelphia, has statistics that prove the effectiveness of their program. The rate of Philadelphia prisoners who return after completing their sentence is 50% lower than the average. By learning from their animal companions, they are actually more likely to stay out of prison.
In regards to what prisoners learn from the dogs, Director Douglas Seirup said:
“I think the most important thing they learned was that they are still human. If an image were to pop in your head of an inmate you might just think that of something negative and I think what this film does is remind people that wherever you are, if you are even an inmate it does not matter, you’re still human.”
Most the dogs who end up in the program have had serious neglect or abuse. Many of the inmates mention identifying with their dog. Mark Bekoff Ph.D says “the dogs become a lifeline for the inmates — their oxygen.” One prisoner in the documentary expresses that it gave him a “taste of freedom.” By teaching the dogs trust, the dog becomes adoptable and gains their own freedom too.
Watch below for the trailer to “Dogs On The Inside” :
Featured image by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images