Celebrates People and Pets
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Mary Ellen and Miss Wings
Mary Ellen
Tips 'n' Tales Newspaper Columnist with Miss Wings

Prisoners Save Pets

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Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Jackie, a volunteer with the Prison Pet Program, with Tonka.
The prison inmates are football fans, and have trained
Tonka to jump when he hears, 'Touchdown!'
When questioned, 'what is your favorite team?'
Tonka sits quietly as several teams are mentioned...
until he hears his favorite team, 'Sea  Hawks'. 
Then he barks and barks, with what appears
to be an expression of joy and an enthusiastic smile on his face.


August 2006, Tips 'n' Tales was created to celebrate families and pets in the Cottage Grove Sentinel's reading area.  And now, it is time to reveal a pet secret from the city where our family previously lived.

Currently, in the United States, there are 65 prisons with pet programs. Gig Harbor houses the Washington Corrections Center for Women, famous for one of these pet programs.  Prison Pet Partnership Program (PPPP) rescues homeless dogs and trains them into first class service dogs for disabled people. 
The program helps female offenders build confidence, learn compassion, and grooming skills for employment in the pet industry upon release. The female inmates learn how to become productive members of society, and the program is so successful that in 18 years, only two have reoffended.

To raise funds for this program, the inmates operate a boarding kennel, grooming service, and train service dogs.

I first became aware of PPPP when a neighbor, Rachelle, was seen walking a different beautiful dog each week.  As a volunteer with PPPP, she was phoned by a local animal shelter whenever a homeless adult dog was scheduled to be killed.  Instead, the dog became a candidate for a service dog.  Rachelle drove to the shelter, saved the dog, and kept it at her home for a week, monitoring it for possible illnesses. 

After a period of prison-service-training, the dogs were then released briefly back into her family's care to help keep the dog attuned to family life.  PPPP volunteers are seen around Gig Harbor,  with their dogs in red training vests: at schools, malls, churches, restaurants, etc., acquainting the dogs with the world outside of prison walls.

Betty, another neighbor who often used the Prison's boarding and grooming services joked, "I am taking my dog to jail." Most dogs drag their feet going into boarding facilities, but Betty's dog, Kringle, was treated with so much unconditional love, that he dragged his feet leaving the prison kennels!

The goal of PPPP is for rescued dogs to have a new lease on life, and provide independence, self-confidence and mobility for people with disabilities.

The program is a success for everyone involved -- the dogs are rescued, adopted and live a life of meaningful service; the inmates learn valuable skills for future employment, and the new disabled pet parents receive FREE well-trained dogs and a greater independence.

To date, 700 trained dogs are Service, Seizure, and Therapy Dogs or are paroled in to appreciative and loving families.

The average expense for training a service dog is $10,000 and eight months of training.  Only 1 out of 15 dogs selected for PPPP has the intelligence and temperament to quality as a Service Dog.

What happens to the dogs who do not complete the classes? They survived death row at a pet shelter, and now what? The good news is these wonderful dogs are "paroled" into loving homes.
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Jackie, a volunteer with the Prison Pet Program, with Tonka.
in his bright vest to identify him as a service dog in training.
Jackie, a four year volunteer for PPPP learned of the program on the Seattle TV show, "Evening Magazine".  She recalls, "At the time we lived fifty miles away, and I knew that one day I would be involved.  Fifteen years later, when my husband and I retired, we moved to Gig Harbor, and I immediately applied."

"What the inmates teach these dogs is amazing," remarks Jackie as she joyfully yells "touchdown" and Tonka leaps in the air, higher than her head! "We routinely take Tonka to an Alzheimer's nursing home.  The first time, we introduced him to a gentleman who had not spoken since he entered the facility.  Tonka gently laid his head in the man's lap, and looked up at him with his huge expressive brown eyes. To everyone's surprise, the man began speaking.  Not simple words, but complete sentences, 'Oh you are beautiful!  What a wonderful dog you are.' Witnessing it brought tears to everyone present. And, we see this all the time!"
Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Tonka, the eyes are the windows of a soul!
Rachelle, who volunteered for years, shares other ways that PPPP dogs helped people: "Three days after a service dog recipient was united with his dog, the man's wheelchair tipped over outside and he fell to the ground.  His new dog assessed the situation, ran off and brought back not one, not two, but three neighbors to help! 

Then, another woman had her service dog for under a week when her electric scooter toppled over onto her, in the kitchen, still running...breaking her leg in five places.  Her dog ran to the phone, dialed 911, ran to the front door and let the ambulance crew in, and then led them to the woman in the kitchen.  We heard so many wonderful stories on how this program helps improve lives.  Dozens of volunteers in the community support PPPP."

A best kept secret is readers with disabilities, over the age of 13, can apply for these expertly trained dogs!

Photo by Mary Ellen "Angel Scribe"
Jackie, a volunteer with the Prison Pet Program, with Tonka.
Tonka waits patiently for the signal; to toss the ball on his muzzle up and catch it.


PPPP places dogs with people who have mobility disabilities, seizure disorders, and as therapy dogs in homes (veterans, retirement, etc).  Applicants must be 13 years or older.  The wait for a dog is 4-6 years.

If you wish to apply for one of PPPP's dogs, the information is below. And when your beautiful dog arrives, please contact Tips 'n' Tales.  Your community wants to hear about your new life and your wonderful companion-service dog.

Volunteers are a blessing for many aspects of PPPP, and they have a 'needs' list of pet supplies, etc.    
To Contact PPPP:  

Also, check the internet, as similar 65 prison pet programs exist coast to coast.


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