I know that so many of my couples and vendor-friends are animal lovers, and I wanted to write about this amazing non profit organization; maybe you’ll put a dog bowl on your cocktail reception bar and raise a buck or two for them! I had the chance to speak about them recently, at my home church’s “Blessing of the Animals” celebration, which always takes place in October.
The group is called, “Puppies Behind Bars“, and they place puppies, well, behind bars. There is no way that I can say this better than they do, so I am going to steal the rest of this post right from them. I hope you’ll go to their website and learn more about them, watch the video (I’m warning you; stock up on the tissues, because it will make you cry buckets full of joyful tears…) and maybe forgo buying those weird wedding favors to donate to them instead. One of my cool, cool, couples had a big pink pawprint shaped card at each place setting, stating that they’d made a donation! Your wedding can change not only your lives, but the lives of many!
A New Leash on Life
How We Got Started
When I started Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) in 1997, I knew, without question, that the inmates we chose to be in our program would love our dogs tremendously. I knew, without question, that our dogs would end up being some of the best working dogs in the world. I knew, without question, that I would make mistakes — I hoped I would learn from them — and I knew, also without question, that Puppies Behind Bars would be a rigorous experience for the inmates involved, one which, I hoped, would help prepare them for life on the outside.
The one thing I did not know – or, at the least, seriously underestimated – was how many lives one single puppy would affect. I knew that each and every puppy would affect the life of the inmate charged with being its primary caretaker; I did not foresee that each and every puppy would make an indelible impact on prison staff, on all the inmates in a correctional facility, and on our volunteers.
Our puppies arrive in prison when they are eight weeks old and they live there until they are anywhere from twelve to twenty months of age. If they are being trained to be “explosive detection canines” , they tend to leave when they turn one year of age; if they are in training to become service dogs for the disabled, they stay with us until they are almost two years old.
Regardless of length of time with us, however, the impact the puppies have is profound – and once they leave us, the bonds with their new human partners grow even stronger. If they are working, on a daily basis, with a law enforcement agent to sniff office buildings, federal courthouses, tourist attractions, or jetliners bound for the United States from abroad, they are looked upon as part of a team, a team in which everyone knows that the dog will keep his partner safe. (I cannot imagine the bond that develops when you go to work with your pooch every day and every day he or she makes decisions that are, literally, lifesaving.)
If our dogs go to disabled children or adults, the bond is also difficult to grasp: in these cases it is not only that the dog becomes the disabled person’s arms and legs, it also becomes their means of fitting in; their means of people wanting to approach them, not avoid them; their means of feeling a part of society instead of apart from it.
And if you are a veteran returning from Iraq or Afghanistan and are part of our newest initiative, dubbed “Dog Tags: Service Dogs for Those Who’ve Served Us”, your Puppies Behind Bars dog is what allows you to go out in the world again, with confidence. It allows you to stand in a grocery store line without fear because you know that someone (your dog) is “watching my back.” It allows you to bond with your children and spouse because the dog, when it is not working, is a family pet who brings joy and a common theme into the house; it allows you to begin to heal because you know that fellow Americans truly appreciate your service to our country.
Years ago an inmate said to me, referring to his puppy, “He makes me feel human again.” I think many of us feel that way. There is nothing like a dog’s love, devotion, and companionship to help you get through the day. For the recipients of our dogs, this is truer than we can imagine.