Photo by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

I just read in the New York Times about a program that matches service dogs to war veterans with PTSD. The dogs are trained by imprisoned convicts in a separate program called Puppies Behind Bars.

I’ve loved dogs from the time I was a very small child. I used to nap as a three-year-old with my head on the belly of Jake, our long-suffering and extraordinarily gentle boxer. As the years passed, we had a poodle, Boston terriers Hector and Albert, and boxers Pete and Mugs. I moved away from home, joined the Air Force, and missed my four-legged companions fiercely.

But it wasn’t long before I had dogs again. There was Annie, a miniature dachshund. Greta, a mutt-mix of pug and who-knows-what. Max, the wire-haired dachshund. Nessie, a rescued Lab/Doberman mix, the sweetest-natured dog I’ve ever known, apart from my current lil’ buddy, Finny McCool. There’s Logan, a Queensland heeler/border collie mix, the other dog who is still an integral part of my family. And there was my parent’s compassionate, funny old boxer Mugs, the second with that goofy name, who died of old age just last year.

Mugs helped my father recover after his last heart surgery. As Dad walked slowly and precariously along the back deck, building his strength back up, Mugs walked along with him. Back and forth, back and forth. When Dad died eight years later, Mugs became my Mom’s closest companion, her friend, and her living link to sweet memories of her late husband. He brought her through the devastation of grief, showing her as much, if not more devotion as he had my Dad, right up to last day of his life.

All of these Good Dogs have cumulatively given me a half-century of love, joy and laughter. I cannot imagine how much less full my life might have been without them.

And now, to read that other good-hearted, loving dogs help men who have faced and still face years of their lives locked up in prison makes me misty-eyed.

But that these same men are training these dogs to help veterans who have been injured in mind and body in war, who have given their youths and the best, most productive parts of their lives to serve their country, who are broken, changed and in need their love and devotion makes me bawl.

Please read the story. And be sure to watch the video linked in the sidebar.

3 thoughts on “

  1. Wren, this is great. I have been around dogs the largest part of my life also. I couldn’t imagine life without them. When my daughter was born, we had a 1 year old half German Shepherd/half Wolf that adopted our daughter as his to watch over. He was so good with her, it broke her heart when he died at age 15. They are much more intelligent than most people give them credit for. Happy Easter.


  2. What a wonderful story. Dogs are pure love.

    We lost our beautiful duck tolling retriever, Summer, about a year and a half ago after 14 very happy years. Now we have Henry, and there’s never a dull moment with him around (last night he decided to eat some cow poop).

    I love seeing your stories and photos of Finny, too. I can’t wait to hear more about your new addition.


  3. My boy grew up in a prison across the state from me.

    His handler talked about him like he was a light in a dark place. You know, raising the dogs in prisons is so good for the people who raise them. It does no harm to their training, and it does great things for the prisoners.

    Did you know that they have a lower rate of committing new crimes when they get out than your average inmate? Yup. I think the number I read was that it was cut in half! And I can only imagine how much it must help, when you’re stuck in a place as awful as we let modern prisons be, to have a companion who thinks you’re awesome. It also gives inmates a sense of purpose and of being able to do something GOOD for the rest of the world. They, after all, are raising a dog who will change someone’s life for the better. Hudson’s handler talked about it as being able to give back after what they’ve done wrong, and begin to atone for it.

    I guess it’s pretty easy to see how I feel about the program!



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