Thursday, August 13, 2009

Putting Puppies Behind Bars? (No, It's A Good Thing!)

Of all the unlikely names for a nonprofit group, there may be none unlikelier than Puppies Behind Bars. But it's not what you might think.

The program teams puppies up with prison inmates — who live with and train the puppies to become bomb-sniffing dogs, or service dogs for wounded vets.

The program began at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in 1997. Now Puppies Behind Bars is working in six correctional facilities, and nearly 500 dogs have been trained in the program.

Gloria Gilbert Stoga, the nonprofit's founder and president, joins Fresh Air guest host Dave Davies for a conversation about Puppies Behind Bars and the people it serves.

Among them are Nora Moran, a former inmate who was part of the program; after she was released in January 2008, she took a job with Puppies Behind Bars.

Also joining the conversation is former Marine Cpl. Paul Bang-Knudsen. He was awarded a Purple Heart after an ambush in Iraq; he suffered multiple gunshot and shrapnel injuries and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

His dog, Samba — one of the first 10 dogs to graduate from the veterans companion animal program at Puppies Behind Bars — helps him get through the day, making him feel safe and alerting him to any potential surprises.

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