By Gaillyne M. Ferguson
Special to The Meadville Tribune
When Sister Pauline Quinn started a Prison Pet Partnership Program in 1981 in Washington, she had no idea how far the concept of her program would travel. Over time, the program reached across the country and into Crawford County.
For agencies such as Canine Partners for Life (CPL) of Chester County in Pennsylvania, the connections that Quinn made supplied the inspiration and ground work for the organization to begin similar programs in Cambridge Springs and Albion.
Today, CPL has puppies in the men’s State Correctional Institutes (SCI) of Albion and Smithfield as well as the women’s institutions of Cambridge Springs and Muncy. Theses prisons are minimum and maximum security prisons located across Pennsylvania with Muncy housing capital cases.
CPL had a very successful program at SCI Graterford, which is a maximum security prison in Montgomery County that also houses capital cases.
Living with two inmate handlers in the cells, puppies are crated two to three hours per day and at night, which helps them overcome separation anxiety if they are placed with someone who needs to leave them for short periods.
During the day, the puppies and their handlers go to breakfast, lunch and supper together, head to the handlers’ worksite on prison grounds and shift to activities or classes. They also enjoy free time with other handlers and their puppies in the afternoon or evening.
For the inmate incarcerated behind bars, the puppy becomes their best friend, and that unconditional love is something many of the inmates have never experienced. Inmates, however, are not granted special privileges just because they are in the program. They are still responsible for following the rules of the prison while they are incarcerated as well as the rules set down by CPL. Infractions of these rules, even the mildest, can be cause for dismissal from the program.
The Prison Puppy Program is open to any inmate that meets the following criterion:
n Must be willing to volunteer their time to the program;
n Have not committed a crime against children or animals or crimes that were sexual in nature;
n Are infraction free for at least six months;
n Are new to the program with a minimum of one year left on their sentence; and
n Are willing to relocate to the housing unit containing the dog program and provide all care for the puppy which includes grooming, feeding and socializing.
The veterinary practices which sponsor puppies at the correctional institute in Albion are Albion Animal Center, as well as Erie’s Twinbrook Veterinary Hospital and Glenwood Pet Hospital. The veterinary practices which sponsor puppies at correctional institute in Cambridge Springs are Greener Pastures Veterinary Hospital in Saegertown, Cochranton Veterinary Hospital, Animal Hospital of Waterford, Conneaut Lake Veterinary Hospital and Linesville Veterinary Service.
How it all started
Sister Pauline Quinn grew up as Kathy Quinn, but her childhood was far from joyous. Problems at home forced her to become a chronic runaway. And since no facilities existed in the early 1950s for teenage runaways, Quinn was sent to an adult psychiatric hospital where she spent most of her childhood.
Molested, demoralized and defenseless, she still remained strong. She found the only way she could socialize with the outside world was through a German shepherd, Joni, which she received from a Texas kennel. With Joni’s help, Quinn started to communicate with others. Yet, when Joni was taken from her, Quinn found she needed something in her life.
She turned to the comfort of a nun. And with spiritual advisors, she soon took her vows and the name, Sister Pauline Quinn.
Soon thereafter, Quinn reached out to Dr. Leo Bustard of the Washington State University veterinary program. She expressed her desire to “take animals into institutions to help those wounded by no fault of their own.” Bustard believed she had the desire and strength due to her earlier experiences, but many had their doubts.
Mental health institutions turned her down, but the Washington State Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor welcomed the idea. With Quinn’s desire, Bustard’s guidance, and the cooperative efforts of Washington State University, Tacoma Community College and the Washington State Department of Corrections, the groundwork was set for the Prison Pet Partnership Program. It has become a model for similar programs throughout the nation for the rehabilitation of offenders.
The Prison Pet Partnership Program has placed more 700 dogs as service, seizure and therapy dogs throughout the Pacific Northwest.
CPL provides more than 400 service dogs nationwide and to the U.S. Virgin Islands for an array of disabilities. Dozens of disabilities are addressed by CPL service dogs.
Though CPL uses volunteer puppy raisers in the community, the concepts and foundation of Quinn’s program enabled CPL to launch its version of a prison puppy raising program 11 years ago at the Maryland Correction Institute for Women. The program has since spread to prisons as local as Crawford and Erie counties.
Today’s next part of a two-part series will look at the responsibilities of the CPL volunteers, those of the inmate handlers and what the program means to all involved.