Our Prison Pup Program began at the medium security Bland Correctional Center in the summer of 2002. Many of the dogs in our training program spend at least some time in prison under the tutelage of our Bland Puppy Raisers.
The inmates in the Prison Pup Program are carefully selected by the prison administration. These men are all residents of the prison’s honor dorm, a coveted privilege earned for good behavior. To stay in the program, they must maintain near-perfect behavior in all aspects of prison life. A breach of any rule or regulation results in removal from the program and the loss of their puppy.
The puppies are trained using methods approved and taught by Saint Francis trainers. The men live in small individual rooms with their puppies, so bonding, playing, and training are ongoing. As a group, they work together every day, providing the dogs with intensive training and each other with camaraderie and fellowship, as they strive towards their common goal of raising their pups. A Saint Francis staff trainer travels to the prison weekly to meet with the puppies and their raisers. She teaches the men new training methods, evaluates the progress of the puppies, and troubleshoots training issues. A counselor on the prison staff acts as liaison to Saint Francis, overseeing the program and communicating with our staff.
The relationship is more than mutually beneficial. The men provide round-the-clock care and love, individualized training, and a regular schedule for our puppies. While there, puppies learn quickly the behaviors and tasks they need to master in order to become a Saint Francis Service Dog. For the men, the puppies provide a balm for the spirit. Bland Puppy Raisers find a sense of purpose in their time behind bars and receive the unconditional love and companionship of their dogs, who do not know why their raisers are in Bland, nor do they care. In the words of one inmate “my puppy taught me how to love, how to reach out and touch somebody, and how to be a special human being”. This is very good news for the many deserving people waiting for a Saint Francis Service Dog.