By Danielle Barcheers
At first glance many people are taken aback by the sight of inmates walking the prison yard at California Institution for Women (CIW) with a dog at their side. “What is going on?” they may wonder. Maybe you have wondered as well?
If you are willing to give a few minutes of your time, I will tell you a story about Sister Pauline’s dream; a story of inspiration, hope and love.
The Prison Puppy Program was conceived out of a dream of a tenacious woman named Sister Pauline Quinn. Already a trail-blazer for many other prison training programs, Sister Pauline made a call to John Dovey, then warden of CIW, and then to Carol Roquemore, the CEO of Canine Support Teams, (CST) Inc. in 2002. Sister Pauline’s persistence and her belief in the rehabilitative benefits for the inmates, and the assistance they could provide to the community was contagious! Along with Sister Pauline, John Dovey and Carol Roquemore also embraced the opportunity to foster the good that could come out of such a program, and the Prison Puppy Program was born.
In September 2002, CIW became the first prison in the state of California to have a Service Dog Training Program. Fast forward 14 years and the inmate trainers continue to play a vital role in the training of service dogs for the disabled community. Approximately 85% of CST graduating dogs are trained at CIW.
While this is clearly a wonderful opportunity for CST, the rewards are very far reaching. To start, the inmates have become very talented trainers, which is a marketable skill, and they are building a resume of accomplishments while incarcerated. They have also learned valuable life skills. The rehabilitative nature of this program teaches team work, compassion, unconditional love, self-control, responsibility, boun-dary setting and giving of themselves to complete strangers.
These incredible dogs do so much for their people once they are placed. They can open and close doors or drawers, they pull manual wheelchairs, turn on and off light switches, retrieve dropped or out of reach objects and assist with removal of clothing and shoes. These are just a few of the remarkable ways they assist their disabled person.
These dogs serve as “ice-breakers” for disabled individuals and provide a independence and unconditional love. The dogs are provided a forever home, unconditional love, companionship, appreciation, affection and purpose in life. The dogs become one half of a team and the very center of someone’s world.
As far as dreams go, if you ask me, this sounds like a dream come true!