Canine program aims to heal hearts in prison

WASHINGTON — It can feel desolate at the Maryland Women’s Prison in Jessup. A pet program looks to change the lives of its prisoners, some of whom simply crave a hug within the abundance of concrete and metal.

“It’s lonely in here and there are things that are completely frowned upon,” says Shiva Dayani, a Jessup inmate for 15 years. “I’ve had friends in here that have been my friend for decades, but I’m not allowed to give them a hug.”

Created in 2000, the Canine Partners for Life is a puppy raising program that began at the state women’s prison. Under the program, 32 puppies are being raised by inmates at the men and women’s facilities in Jessup and five other facilities in Pennsylvania.

“To have this little creature that’s like completely affectionate is huge,” Dayani says.

The inmates share their cell with their assigned pups. There are weekly training classes in the prison gymnasium.

“It’s the only program that gives anything back to the community that I’ve seen, that I can be a part of,” Dayani says.

Inmates learn the lesson of responsibility, discipline and self-sacrifice, especially when they have to return the dog.

“I get so attached to mine and other people’s dogs, too,” Dayani continues. “So every single time they leave, I cry. Every single dog, I cry.”

Prisoners are screened vigorously before receiving a dog. Canine Partners For Life has placed over 600 service and home companion dogs in 45 states.

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