CAMERON, Mo. – During a ceremony at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Gov. Jay Nixon commended the Missouri Department of Corrections’ Puppies for Parole program, in which inmates provide obedience training to shelter dogs once considered to be unadoptable. The ceremony marked the training and adoption of 4,000 dogs through the program since its inception in 2010. Missouri’s Puppies for Parole program is the largest at any U.S. state corrections department.
“The Puppies for Parole program has been a remarkable success for the Missouri Department of Corrections, not only teaching the participating offenders about responsibility, problem-solving and compassion, but leading to the adoption of thousands of dogs once unwanted and considered unadoptable,” Gov. Nixon said.
The Puppies for Parole program began as a pilot program at the Jefferson City Correctional Center in February 2010 and has been expanded to 19 of Missouri’s 21 correctional centers. Of the 4,000 dogs that have completed the program, 95 percent have been adopted by families, with the others being adopted by veterans’ homes, nursing homes and mental health facilities across Missouri.
Almost 2,200 offenders have participated in the program, which is voluntary. Offenders who participate in the program have significantly fewer conduct violations while in the program compared with the rest of the offender population. Participants are enrolled in an apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor. Through formal training, individualized study and hands-on training, program participants can earn a certificate in animal handling, which is recognized in all 50 states. Puppies for Parole operates without the use of taxpayer dollars, exclusively utilizing private donations and donations from offender organizations.
“Puppies for Parole provides offenders with a positive and meaningful experience that helps them transition back to being productive members of their communities once released,” Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi said. “It also provides a calming influence in our correctional institutions because many offenders get a chance to interact with the dogs besides the handlers.”
The Department of Corrections works with animal shelters across the state, which provide dogs that are often unwanted due to socialization or obedience problems. Offender-handlers train the dogs in basic obedience to make them more adoptable.
In 2011, People magazine profiled the Puppies for Parole program in a feature that included the story of “Sparky,” a miniature dachshund that was deaf. After Department of Corrections’ offenders taught Sparky basic commands through American Sign Language, he was adopted by Missouri School for the Deaf where he soon became an inspiration to students and staff at the K-12 school.