"Everyone deserves a second chance." Such a simple, yet powerful line perfectly sums up what this article is all about.
Back in February, 2015, digital strategy agency BOND released a documentary titled Dogs On The Inside that shines light on an initiative taking place in North Central Correctional Institution located in Gardner, Massachusetts. The facility is known for its prison dog training program that pairs prison inmates with shelter dogs.
" 'Dogs On The Inside' follows the relationships between neglected and abused stray dogs and prison inmates, as they each work together towards their second chance at a better life: a forever home for the dogs and a positive life outside prison for the inmates," reads the movie synopsis.
While it may sound risky to pair potentially violent prisoners with traumatized dogs, results show such a pairing is mutually beneficial to the human and animal involved.
Prisons were chosen as untraditional foster homes for stray dogs due to overcrowded animal shelters. The goal was to find the dogs a temporary spot where they would be prepared for adoption.
But it didn't stop there. The dog fostering program turned into a unique rehabilitation process for the prison inmates who care for the dogs, encouraging them to find love, empathy and faith within themselves.
So how does it work?
To start, the dogs are carefully selected. The ones taken into programs are usually "doomed to a short life in a shelter." They often have aggression, shyness and other behavioral issues that make it impossible for them to stay in crowded shelters.
Secondly, as film creators Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup explained to One Green Planet, the inmates who want to participate in dog fostering and training have to go through a thorough screening process: They can't have any violent criminal history, neither outside, nor inside prison.
When all that is confirmed, they undergo professional dog training lessons to teach them how to work with traumatized dogs, and how to train obedience skills and prepare the dogs for a new, loving home.
Candido Santiago was one of the first inmates to sign up for the dog training program and took care of six stray dogs over the course of his last year in the correctional institution.
When interviewed by "Dogs On The Inside" film crew about his experience, Santiago couldn't hold back the tears.
Later, he published a piece on The Daily Beast sharing his thoughts:
"My experience working with dogs in prison had a huge impact on my life. At times during my sentence, I was really lonely and no one visited me. These dogs always lent me a non-judgmental ear when I talked to them. They were the ultimate companions. Each dog I was responsible for provided me love, trust, confidence, and a purpose," Santiago wrote.