The Paws for Life program, known as costly and time-consuming, takes a unique approach. It is working with prison inmates to train shelter dogs.
In this program, prisoners at the Lancaster State Prison were taught to train dogs to be supportive animals for veterans who have PTSD.
“I didn’t think it was possible for someone to trust a person who was incarcerated,” said Jensen, an inmate who discovered the Paws for Life program while serving his sentence and decided to apply.
“But they supported me 100%. It was difficult at first, but you’ve got to be strong. I didn’t want to fail the dogs,” Jensen added.
He also said that merely having Aspen—the dog he taught—next to him brought him tranquility that he had not felt in a long time. “Aspen brought me so much comfort, despite her snoring and feeling the heat of her nose on my face.”
Jensen’s dog utilizes the skills he taught her to help a veteran cope with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
“You know, for us guys, we can feel like we don’t deserve forgiveness,” Jensen said according to the Best Friends. “But then we give our dogs all the love in the world, and they give it back.”
While doing time in prison, Jeff Hunter became a PTSD service dog trainer who developed an obvious connection with his dog, Vera.
“It’s no secret how I feel about her. For the last year I have poured my heart out to this little girl,” Hunter stated.
“May you find comfort and security with our dogs and may they enhance your quality of life as much as they have enhanced ours,” he said, became emotional when handing Vera over to a group of veterans.
Another inmate who is a dog trainer is Tyson Atlas. He and other prisoners claimed that offering loving service dogs to former soldiers has allowed them to find atonement.
“The program allows us to take animals who are like us at times, sometimes neglected,” said Altas. “To have an opportunity to make a change and do something different is amazing. I grew up in a very bad neighborhood. I came to prison with my father.”
With five dogs and 14 inmates, Paws for Life began in 2014 at the California State Prison in Lancaster. In 2019, there were 107 inmates and 40 dogs involved in the program, according to ABC7.
Former inmate and program director John Grobman remarked, “this program brings a level of humanity that builds self-esteem and confidence.”
No one has returned to prison out of the 40 offenders who have completed the program and been paroled and freed.
“Right now our recidivism rate is zero. Not one person graduating from Paws for Life has returned to custody,” Grobman went on to say.