Puppies Behind Bars: Serving the Community While Serving Time
Puppies Behind Bars was founded 25 years ago, with a mission of training prison inmates to raise working dogs for the world-at-large. Labrador Retriever puppies enter prison when they are eight weeks old and live there for one to two years, being nurtured, loved, and trained by incarcerated individuals. While the nature of the work the dogs do has changed over the years, the goal has not: that men and women serving time in maximum-security prisons can contribute to society from behind bars. Initially guide dogs for the blind were raised by the incarcerated individuals, then the organization switched to raising service dogs for veterans coming home wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. The latest iteration of Puppies’ work is incarcerated individuals raising “facility dogs” for police departments, where the dogs help with officer wellness as well as community relations. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this is that active-duty police officers come into prison for two weeks of training, led directly by the incarcerated “puppy raisers”. Through the dogs, both sides — cops and inmates — begin to see beyond the uniforms each is wearing and begin to discover similarities rather than differences in each other.
Gloria Gilbert Stoga is the president and founder of Puppies Behind Bars, a nonprofit organization that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for veterans and first responders. Previously, she served as a member of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Youth Empowerment Commission, where she worked with the corporate community and secured commitments to provide training and jobs for the city’s underprivileged young people. Prior to joining City Hall, she was the executive director of the New York Metropolitan Committee for UNICEF and from 1988–1994, she was the founder and director of the Privatization Project at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.