In our society today, there is slow but steady growth in the understanding of the existence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within our communities and its broad spanning impact. Whether PTSD is the result of combat experiences, natural disasters, abuse, illness, or other circumstances we are coming to the realization as a culture that there are significant populations whose needs are not yet sufficiently being met by the conventional resources available. Guiding institutions within the government and military are also developing awareness of the debilitating economic impact of PTSD both internally and externally to their organizations. One important way that communities across the country are currently responding to this clear need and gap of support is through the development and implementation of service dog training programs.
New Life K9 is one of these organizations and they as well as others have discovered a unique way to help provide more service dogs to veterans and first responders through the creation of prison-based animal programs where incarcerated volunteers can assist in training service dogs. While the use of formal prison-based animal programs in the United States dates back to the mid-70s and 80s, the structuring of programs for the goal of serving veterans has only been established in the last decade. Today prison-based animal programs can be found in countries across the world such as England, Canada, Scotland, Australia, and South Africa. New Life K9s’ own prison-based program originated with a ministry partnership with California Men’s Colony and later expanded out to partner with other institutions.
While it is hard to know for certain how long animal training programs within prisons have been in use historically, there is substantial documentation surrounding the positive use of dogs in United States’ prisoner of war camps to improve morale during World War II as well as their use for therapeutic support in hospitals in the early 19th century. Research also strongly supports that prison-based animal programs can have a positive humanizing impact on incarcerated individuals’ living environments, mental health, as well as the social dynamics with internal and external social communities. For example, for an incarcerated individual, training a dog or providing socialization to a rescue animal often becomes a safe topic of conversation when an individual comes to visit.
A Benefit To All Participants
Prison-based animal programs across the globe have become meaningful collaborators in helping to inspirationally serve and benefit multiple populations at once. With the increased ability to train more service dogs through these partnerships, a greater number of veterans and first responders seeking out service animals can receive the support they might not have had access to otherwise. Additionally, volunteers within incarcerated communities are provided newfound abilities to give back and build relationships through the training of service animals. Dogs have a unique way of expressing unconditional love (not passing judgment on the circumstances of our lives) and assisting in building positive lifestyles for individuals in all walks of life.
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New Life K9s places service dogs with veterans and first responders with PTSD at no cost to the veterans and first responders.
- Furst, G. (2016). Helping war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: Incarcerated individuals' role in therapeutic animal programs. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 54(5), 49-57. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3928/02793695-20160420-07
- Allison, M., & Ramaswamy, M. (2016). Adapting animal-assisted therapy trials to prison-based animal programs. Public Health Nursing (Boston, Mass.), 33(5), 472-480. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/phn.12276
- Strimple, Earl. (2003). A History of Prison Inmate-Animal Interaction Programs. American Behavioral Scientist - AMER BEHAV SCI. 47. 70-78. 10.1177/0002764203255212.