As a Life-Cycle Celebrant for the last decade, my motto has been “Celebrate Always, and in All Ways.” Among the many resolutions I made at the beginning of 2019 was to learn about new opportunities to celebrate “regular” days. Handy Apps like “Holiday Today” and “Holidays” provide a daily list of observances throughout the year. Many of the notations are, to my mind, sort of silly—“National Curmudgeon’s Day,” “National Bubblegum Day,” or “National fettuccine Alfredo Day,” for instance. But as I peruse the offerings I come across those that have larger meaning. Today, January 29, is “Seeing Eye Dog Day.” I use this “holiday,” to celebrate one of my all-time favorite charities Puppies Behind Bars.
One of the highlights of my charity work, over the years, has been serving on the board of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. Based at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Hudson Link has provided incarcerated men an opportunity to earn a four-year college diploma, as they prepare for re-entry into their community. After more than two decades, Hudson Link is now part of an ever-growing network of colleges and universities and correctional facilities that seek to offer higher education opportunities to men and women who may be serving prison sentences but wish to better themselves for their eventual release.
While connected with Hudson Link, I became familiar with another wonderful project at the Bedford Hills Women’s Prison: Puppies Behind Bars. In this innovative program, pups, bred with the intention of functioning as service dogs, spend the first two years of their lives, living and learning with incarcerated women. These individuals socialize the animals, while beginning the long road of service training they will receive as adult dogs. After leaving the facility, the canines go to programs that will prepare them to assist wounded war veterans and first responders, as well as explosive-detective canines for law enforcement.
This is a win-win arrangement of the highest order: The women who raise the puppies enjoy all the proven benefits of deep pet therapy, while gaining marketable training for their return home. The costly and time-consuming preparation of puppies for intensive training institutes is beneficial to all those who will rely on these canine service animals. Veterans and citizens, alike, reap benefits beyond calculation for all the dogs offer.
There are now service dog training programs in a good many prisons around the country. I encourage you to learn more!