JEFFERSON CITY — Inmates at a central Missouri prison are rehabilitating abandoned puppies as part of a Missouri Department of Corrections program.
"Puppies for Parole" started at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. According to the Jefferson City News Tribune, three other prisons are looking to do the program in the future.
The program takes dogs from the Jefferson City Animal Shelter that are at risk of being euthanized and brings them to the prison for rehabilitation.
At the beginning of February, the prisoners in the Honor Dorm at the Jefferson City Correctional Center received 10 abandoned puppies. The dogs were malnourished and had to be bottle fed by prisoners. They are now ready to be sent back to the shelter for adoption.
The prisoners have worked with other dogs, teaching them basic obedience and socializing the animals.
Prison officials say the program not only helps the animals, but the prisoners as well.
"It has a real calming effect on them," said Cindy Smith, a counselor who works in the Honor Dorm. "The entire morale of the dorm has changed."
Brian Hicks, an inmate from Springfield, said he appreciates the opportunity to contribute.
"It's a way for us to give back," Hicks said. "I've been here six years, and I know some guys who have been here 30 years and haven't seen a dog in 20 years. And when they see these dogs, they just melt."
Prison officials said the program has made the prison a safer and more secure facility.
One security guard said that since the dogs have come into the dorm, they've had fewer problems with the prisoners.
"These guys have not had that much contact with others in terms of having to take care of anyone else, other than themselves," Smith said. "This teaches them how to be more responsible."
Correctional Center Superintendent Dave Dormire said they have also started taking some of the dogs over to the unit that houses prisoners with Alzheimer's or dementia, and the dogs have had a calming effect on those prisoners as well.
The animals are crate trained and prisoners in the Honor Dorm keep the dogs in the cells with them. Once the dogs are in improved health, they will be sent back to their original shelter and put up for adoption.
"Puppies for Parole" uses no general revenue from the state and operates solely on private donations and donations from offender organizations.
Last year, more than 46,000 homeless dogs were euthanized in Missouri.