Unwanted dogs, prisoners and disabled people may not on the face of it appear to have a great deal in common but they are all living creatures facing problems of communication and, particularly for the first two categories, rejection. For the dog the best it can hope for is a short-lived life scavenging for itself and then either starvation, a road accident or being beaten to death is all too often the norm. Even those who are taken into care by charitable or governmental agencies can very often find themselves subjected to euthanasia if a permanent home with a dog loving family cannot be found for them. Prisoners are denied, in most cases, normal communication with other human beings and it has been common throughout the history of incarceration for them to make friends with the most unlikely of pets; indeed during the early days of the 'silent system' in British jails it was not unheard-of for lonely inmates to adopt even flies and crawling insects, rats and mice were seen as a welcome break from a never ending monotony and we are all familiar with the story of the Bird man of Alcatraz.

A particular problem that many disabled people have is that they feel isolated from the world in general; unless they are fortunate enough to have friends or family to visit them regularly they can find themselves trapped within four walls with little chance of getting out and mixing with people. Being cut off from not only normal social contacts but also from work opportunities with no immediate future prospects of a relief from the monotony of day-to-day life it is little surprise that many disabled people sink into depression.

So here we have dogs which seemingly have no purpose in life; prisoners who would welcome not only a pet to lavish attention upon but also a chance to do something useful for society and perhaps pick up job skills, and disabled people to whom a trained dog could be a godsend; and you have the Second Chance Prison Canine Programme. Unwanted dogs are taken from what is probably canine death row and taught useful skills which would make them not only helpful companions to people in need but which could also make them capable of security work such as sniffing out drugs, weapons, bombs etc at airports or other potential terrorist targets; and even those that were unsuitable for this type of training would benefit from the human contact which would make them far more suitable for a future life as a domestic pet.

The programme was first dreamt of by Sister Pauline Quinn as far back as 1981 and although it has met with a mixed reception from prison authorities a number of correctional Institutes have given the idea a try and there are more considering it in the future. Dogs are now being trained in prisons in not only more than 20 states in the USA but also in numerous countries worldwide.


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