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Former Governor Ed Rendell Supports Program, Which Matches Animals with Prisoners

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How often have you seen a stray animal in your neighborhood, or have almost hit one while driving?  Some of these animals are rescued and become pets in people's homes, while others are at least taken to a shelter.  But what happens to those lost souls who don't make it to either place? 

Prisoners with dogs

There are areas within our society that have been overlooked during these tough times. Organizations like the Animal Rescue League, the Humane Society, the SPCA, and others are facing harsh economic realities.  With a reduction in donations, the ability to meet their basic operating costs has been exhausted and some animal shelters have been forced to stop accepting stray animals.  But, creative solutions are often developed in response to tenuous circumstances.

Kelly McGinley, coordinates HOPE (Hounds of Prison Education) in Central Pennsylvania.  HOPE, founded in 2005, works in conjunction with the state correctional institution in Camp Hill.  It is an all volunteer, 501c(3), organization which does not receive government funding.  This non-profit organization's purpose is to match prison inmates with stray dogs. 

In speaking about the program McGinley said, “It provides dogs with training and socialization, while foster groups work on placing them with families.”  

The prisoners who are chosen to become part of the program must meet specific criteria.  The screening process allows inmates to participate if they have a clean disciplinary record and have not been convicted of animal cruelty, or sex crimes.  The dogs provided live in the cells with their caretakers during a training period that can last between six and twelve weeks.\

Beyond living together, prisoners and their dogs participate in weekly training sessions with a professional dog behaviorist. During these sessions the dogs are taught obedience, socialization skills, and behavior modification in preparation for public adoption.    

Successful programs have been in existence in other areas of the country as well, including  Washington State. The Prison Pet Partnership Program, founded by Sister Pauline Quinn in 1981, involves female inmates.

Former Governor Ed Rendell recently pledged his support and fund raising efforts across Pennsylvania.  He believes these programs will help the state to address the large numbers of stray animals that exist.

People naturally have developed opinions about the environments prisoners should live in and what types of privileges, if any, they should be allowed to have. Clearly, each situation has to be considered on its own merit.  If costs are minimal, positive benefits seem to be gained by allowing selected prisoners to participate in these programs. 

Animals are being helped and in many cases are having their lives saved.  Prisoners not only perform a worthwhile public service, but they can also gain transferable employment skills to be used upon their reentry into society.  The efforts of those who will not be released benefit the animals and allow for a productive use of time. 

We don't need to embrace all ideas that are presented for existing problems within society.  It is rational though to be open to creative solutions, especially those that appear to be working.                       

Contact Sean O'Brien at sobrien@philly2philly.com