PAALS partnered with Kershaw Correctional Institute in February of 2009 to begin teaching inmates to raise and train canines for people with disabilities. This program allows PAALS puppies in training receive a large amount of one-on-one time and training with men who are trying to turn their lives around and give back to the community. The amazing part is to watch how PAALS puppies change the lives of those who are raising them Mon-Fri while they are working their way to better the lives of someone with a disability.
How are inmates chosen for the PAALS program?
Staff members initially screen interested inmates at each facility. Each inmate must meet certain criteria in their overall behavior and job records. Potential inmate handlers are usually model inmates. PAALS puppy program staff interview all candidates and make final selections for participants in the program.
What kinds of puppies are in the prison programs?
The Labrador retriever is the primary breed trained in the prison program. PAALS also occasionally trains labradoodles, and rescue mixes that may also be placed in the prison program.
Where do the puppies live?
Each puppy is matched with a primary handler and a backup handler. The puppy lives with both handlers. A crate is provided so the handlers can set up a sleeping area within their room. Although inmates’ sleeping quarters are referred to as "cells," they are more similar to college dormitories. Puppies spend most of their time with the primary and backup handler. This means they go with them to programs, classes, and recreation areas. The only time actually spent in the room with the inmate is usually at night or for scheduled count times when inmates are required to be in their room. Some inmates hold part-time jobs in addition to participating in the program but most participants in the program are not required to work due to the demands of raising a puppy. Occasionally, the puppy may go with the handler to work or be taken care of by a backup handler until his/her handler returns from his job.
What sort of training do inmates receive?
PAALS trainers visit each prison program twice a week to conduct a two-hour class for the inmates in the program. Here, the inmates learn how to teach their puppy basic obedience and service dog tasks. In addition, they learn how to groom and properly care for their puppy, basic first aid and canine health. The trainer assesses every puppy each week, making training recommendations and assigning homework for the handler for the upcoming week.
How do the puppies receive adequate socialization within the prison environment?
Handlers are required to provide socialization around the facility by bringing their puppy with them whenever possible. Whether they are going to a medical appointment, to a class, or to the visiting room, the puppy is usually going to be right by their handler’s side. This way they are constantly getting exposed to as many new people and sights and sounds as possible.
How do the puppies get experience to things like car rides, traffic, bus stations, malls, homes, etc?
Obviously, there are things that the handlers cannot expose their puppies to; things outside the confines of prison. In order for the puppies to develop normally and get used to things in the outside world, volunteers help out. These weekend puppy raisers trained in socialization skills by PAALS, are assigned to a puppy for the year they are in the prison program. Each volunteer picks up his/her puppy on Friday night and returns him on Sunday night or Monday morning. Puppies spend their weekends in home environments and following the volunteers’ routine around town.
During the two-year training period required to produce a service dog from a puppy, PAALS also provides programs for underserved youth, seniors, and individuals with special needs and who are considered at-risk. Please click below if you would like to make a donation to Prison PAALS.